The 2016 Lambert volleyball team was the culmination of a long build-up for the program: The Longhorns had a group of seven strong seniors, and three had played varsity since their freshman year.
Longhorns head coach Missey Hall wanted to keep Kendall Barrett, one of those seniors, at setter, and to do that, she needed an outside hitter. Conveniently enough, they had a particularly talented incoming freshman who could fill that role.
It was Hall’s daughter, Ally.
“She fit in really well,” Missey Hall said. “As opposed to mom trying to push her into a position, it was a position we needed.”
That fall, the Longhorns advanced to the state semifinals, with Ally Hall playing a starring role and earning First Team All-FCN. Hall was even better as a sophomore, improving her stats across the board, earning the same accolade and leading a less experienced Lambert team to the state quarterfinals. The junior has proven herself as one of the most productive, versatile players in the state, and this offseason, she committed to play in college at Middle Tennessee State.
But as long as Ally Hall is on the court and Missey Hall is on the sidelines, both of them know that some doubts and skepticism about the arrangement will remain.
“I don’t think she’ll ever 100 percent prove herself in that,” Missey Hall said. “I think it’s always going to be in the back of some people’s minds. But she puts her head down, she works hard and supports her teammates, and her teammates support her.”
At one time, Missey Hall doubted her place as a coach in general. She played volleyball at Florida Southern College, and in her first year out, she coached as a graduate assistant. It didn’t go particularly well.
“I did not like coaching at all,” Hall said. “I had a hard time explaining and not understanding why athletes weren’t understanding what I was saying.”
She waited until Ally was in second grade to start coaching again, at Suwanee Sports Academy. Missey Hall didn’t coach her daughter and didn’t directly push her towards volleyball, but when she signed Ally up for a clinic, she had her hopes.
“I didn’t say a whole lot, but inside I was praying: ‘Please love it, please love it.’” Hall said. “And she did.”
Ally was still in elementary school when the head coaching position at Lambert opened. Missey Hall’s husband suggested that she look at the program and the position, and despite the long layoff and feeling unsure if she wanted to be a head coach, she was in the position within two weeks of applying.
By her fifth year, she had a both serious state title contender on the court and a dilemma of how to deal with people noticing Ally Hall’s place on the team. Missey Hall has purposely downplayed the pair’s relationship both in how she coaches the team and how she talks about it, but the heckles of “mommyball” remained.
Ally Hall has done her best to channel that skepticism into motivation.
“I think it’s good that I have all that pressure on my back,” she said. “It makes me definitely work harder than the average kid, because I have more weight dragging on my shoulders. And everyone’s eyes are always watching me, (like) ‘Oh, what is the coach’s daughter doing? Is she not working hard? Is she working hard? I always have to be 100 percent, which is really good.”
The formal coach-player relationship hasn’t done any long-term damage to Halls’ mother-daughter relationship. Ally Hall said her mother is her best friend and that they have a better relationship than most teens do with their parents.
At the same time, that means they aren’t able to completely set aside that connection, even in the more formal setting of practice or a game. If Missey Hall lays into Ally Hall, Ally can’t see her just as a coach. During her freshman year, tears were shed.
“She does have a tough skin; she’s tough mentally,” Missey Hall said of her daughter. “But there’s been a couple of times when we’ve taken it home. It hasn’t been pretty.”
They’ve learned how to make the relationship work over the years, though, and Ally Hall’s teammates at Lambert have always accepted her fully, without skepticism about any supposed advantage she had.
Ally Hall has grown from a talented freshman under the wing of a large group of seniors to a true leader herself. She’s particularly vocal and pointed with teammates during practice, and in this year’s group, she sees potential for something special. The Longhorns are returning a wealth of offensive talent in Hall, sophomore Bella Tolone and setter Lael White, and despite the loss of important seniors like middle blocker Madeleine Bertz, now playing at William & Mary, the team doesn’t feel like it has lost much since the end of last season.
“I think we’re starting at a really high level,” senior Claire Richey said. “It’s a genuinely young team, so I think for being such a young team, we’re really strong right now.”
It’s teams and opportunities like this brought Missey Hall to the high school coaching ranks. The task of coaching her daughter does bring some headaches, and Hall could have declined to mix family with the locker room, which some coaches have purposely done with their children.
But she saw that there was so much more to gain.
“I feel like the culture (here) is so positive, so connected,” Hall said. “Our program is so strong that way, and we had such a vision on where we wanted to go with things. I wanted Ally to be a part of that.”