The start of John Hood’s career as Habersham Central’s volleyball coach didn’t quite start on the right foot, but it regained balance sooner than expected.
In 2007, Hood’s first year at the helm, the Lady Raiders started the season with a seven-match losing streak. Things weren’t looking very good until they followed up the slump with a six-match winning streak and an eventual state playoff berth. They even won their first-round match before losing to Northwest Whitfield in the second round, ending their season with a respectable 27-19 record.
Things would only get better from there.
Armed with three seniors and nine juniors, the 2008 season started far differently than the last. Habersham Central jumped out of the starting gates with an 11-match winning streak, and during that span, lost only one game, and swept everyone else.
The rest of the season went smoothly, as Hood’s team went 26-9 the rest of way, en route to a 37-9 record, nearly tripling its 2007 season win total.
"We had a stronger mental approach over physical (this year)," Hood said. "In 2007, we were just trying to figure everything out after everything started bad, and still finished strong. That’s when we got the ball rolling."
For his efforts, Hood is the 2008 Times Volleyball Coach of the Year.
Before 2007, Hood had never coached volleyball before. In his 20 years of coaching, he had only dealt with softball and basketball. The only connection he had with volleyball was through his wife, Amy Hood, who was the former Habersham Central volleyball coach and is now the coach of the Lady Raiders basketball team.
Regardless of his lack of experience in the sport, it was those 20 years of coaching that made him an attractive candidate for the job.
"I always thought coaching was coaching," Hood said. "The volleyball coach vacancy had just opened up, and I told them I could do it."
After accepting the position, Hood went to work finding the best volleyball experts in the area to serve as assistants. The result was the hiring of Lindsey McCoy and Jennifer Elsey, who had taught numerous players in the Gainesville area and coached clubs at the University of Georgia.
Together, the three coaches created a promising future for Habersham Central volleyball, with a combination of expertise in the technical aspects of the game and the ability to motivate players.
"It was the most relaxed coaching position I had ever been in," Hood said. "With their knowledge of the game and my experience as a coach, we had a good situation, and we still do."
The results have been nothing short of positive. Once a team that couldn’t crack the top four in the Area 8-AAAA tournament, the Lady Raiders have suddenly turned into an area contender that set a school record for wins and earned a state rank for the first time in school history this year.
"We played the best we could play, and had a lot of confidence we could play," Hood said. "I’m proud of them for hanging in there."
But 37 wins is not a ceiling by any means. With nine juniors returning next year, the 2009 season holds even greater promises, ones that may include that coveted area title.
"I think we have a good chance," Hood said. "We’re getting there. Area is definitely within reach."
With a well-seasoned team coming back next year, and a newly-formed middle school team, Hood has set the standard for what looks to be an up-and-coming volleyball program at Habersham Central.
"The future for Habersham Central volleyball is bright," he said. "We’re on the right track."