Put Me In, Coach!
“The first time I touched a volleyball was when I was five, in our front yard with a Volley-Lite my dad bought me. Now, volleyball has been my biggest source of joy for almost nine years,” says Martha Plaehn (’22), whose father Tim Plaehn is both a Humanities teacher and head volleyball coach (coach Plaehn has also coached his daughter as part of the Biltmore Volleyball Academy’s U15 National Team). Here, the two reminisce on their memories at Carter Gymnasium, as well as the ways they’ve led one another to define success on their own terms.
What was it like having your dad as a coach or your daughter as a player?
Martha: Initially I was worried we wouldn’t get along or it would harm our father-daughter relationship, but that wasn’t the case at all. I actually end up calling him Coach instead of Dad at school or home sometimes. He inspires me to be the best I can be, on and off the court.
Tim: I mean, the only hiccup was in the last match of this season where I felt the second ref was going after my daughter and I lost my cool with him—definitely functioning as more of a father than a coach in that moment. Other than that, it’s been the most incredible privilege. I have been allowed to play a central role in a part of my child’s life that is so important to her, a part of her life where she’s been able to bring out her best self. It’s been an absolute joy, and I’m so excited I’ll be able to do it with Flannery, Martha’s little sister, when she begins Asheville School next fall.
What’s something you learned about each other during your volleyball years together?
Tim: She’s a lot tougher than I thought. She’s absolutely not afraid of hard work. And she values being a part of something bigger than herself probably more than anything else.
Martha: We’re not good losers. We both get very upset whenever we lose a match. I’m normally emotional or teary and he needs a distraction. After our loss against Providence, he went to mow the lawn.
Can you each share a memory from Carter Gymnasium?
Tim: My most vivid memory was when Martha dove for a ball and landed on her face, causing a bloody mess. That ain’t a favorite though. I guess I want to go with some of the diving plays, long rallies, smart dumps, big kills—and she’s really great at recognizing big plays from her teammates and celebrating them as her own. I’m smiling right now thinking about a hit that Jenkins [Cowan] had this year that caused Martha to slam the floor with both her hands in celebration. She literally hurt herself she was so excited with her outside hitter!
Martha: Senior night was a really special experience. It was a big win against the Trailblazers, and it was a meaningful way to commemorate four years of hard work, but also half a lifetime of playing. Coach said that he was “lucky I chose volleyball,” but really, I never had a choice, because I always wanted to grow up to be just like my dad, and volleyball was the way I could achieve that.
Who are your role models?
Tim: I’ve got my wife for her incredible work ethic, my oldest daughter for her enthusiasm, my oldest son for his humor, my youngest daughter for her creativity, and my youngest son for his positivity. Beyond those five, and I’m thinking specifically for coaching, I’ll name Karch Kiraly, the head coach of the women’s national team. He’s demanding, encouraging, and so confident in the abilities of the women on that team.
Martha: Coach would definitely want me to say Karch Kiraly, his favorite volleyball player. My dad made me number 15 when I was nine because of how much he loves Karch Kiraly, but if I’m being honest, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Karch Kiraly play. My role model would probably have to be John Lewis; some of my favorite advice of his is “make good trouble.”
What’s one piece of advice you would give one another?
Martha: I think I would tell him to try to learn what each player needs individually. Some people need to be yelled at, but others need lots of encouragement.
Tim: It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock-n-roll, so do the work and then trust and love.