Alicen Pearson really wanted to join the Cartersville City Schools system, even if it meant not being able to remain a head volleyball coach at the varsity level.
After spending the past two seasons leading the Gordon Central program, Pearson landed a job as a math teacher at Cartersville Middle for the 2020-21 school year. At the time, the former Cass High head coach thought her volleyball duties would include — at most — heading up the middle school team and assisting with the varsity squad.
Then unexpectedly, the position of Canes varsity head volleyball coach became available, and Pearson’s résumé made her a no-brainer pick to fill the role.
“She had experience playing in high school, experience playing in college,” Cartersville High athletic director Darrell Demastus said of Pearson. “She had experience as a head coach, working her way up through assisting. She just seemed like the logical choice.”
In announcing Pearson as the program’s next head coach, Demastus considered himself extremely lucky to have had someone like her already within the school system.
“We count it very fortunate that she came to teach with us and to decide she was willing to take on the responsibility of high school varsity head coach,” Demastus said Friday. “We’re very fortunate in those aspects. There are certain sports it’s very hard to find head coaches for, and volleyball is one of them.
“It was a blessing on our end that we were able to get her.”
Pearson played in high school at powerhouse Sandy Creek (Class of 2005) and collegiately at Berry College (C/O ’09).
Her first school coaching job out of college was as an assistant at Cass. She had a multi-year stint as Colonels head coach early in the 2010s.
Afterwards, Pearson moved back home to Tyrone to assist at Flat Rock Middle and Sandy Creek before returning to the Northwest Georgia area in 2018. She's also coached at the club level and spent one season assisting with the Bartow County Parks and Recreation department youth program.
“Cartersville is known for being a prestigious and well-known program both academically and athletically,” Pearson said. “I’ve interviewed there several times over the past few years, just trying to get a teaching job. …
“The opportunity to coach there was just awesome. The experience I’ve had before now has helped me be a candidate for that position.”
That being said, Pearson admitted she’s apprehensive about the prospects of leading the Canes into an extremely loaded region headlined by last year’s Class 4A state champion Blessed Trinity.
“I’m going to be honest, I’m a little nervous,” Pearson said. “I thought I was going to be the middle school coach, and then came this opportunity. I was really excited but nervous.
“With [Cartersville] being second in the region last year — I know it was a different region — I do expect them to come out fighting. I know it will be different. It will take some time to bond with them, learning me as a coach and for me to learn them as players. But I do expect them to be familiar with the court and be able to go out there to do the best job.”
Cartersville has had plenty of success in recent years, winning three straight Region 5-AAAA titles before last season’s runner-up finish. The Canes were eliminated in the first round of the state tournament in 2019, but that came on the heels of the program’s first trip to the Final Four.
After a senior-laden group guided Cartersville to unprecedented heights in 2018, last season represented a rebuilding year of sorts. With several underclassmen seeing significant time, the Canes finished 20-15. They did graduate a pair of standouts in Lauren Wenzell and Halle Matthews but will return a bulk of the group.
Even still, Demastus knows Pearson will have her hands full in her first season. Some of that is attributed to the new region, but there’s also the matter of taking over a team during the most unique offseason any current coach has ever seen.
“It is unfortunate that she’s not able to get to see what her team consists of until they relax some of these restrictions, because right now, they can’t touch a volleyball,” Demastus said, noting the current GHSA rules regarding workouts. “… She’s got a challenge for this first year. That’s for sure, but after talking with her, to me, she seems like the type of person that challenges are welcomed by her.”
That does appear to be the case.
Although she won’t hold her first official meeting with prospective players and their parents until June 15, Pearson is already planning for ways to train without a volleyball, should the GHSA’s ban on sport-specific equipment extend into the timeframe when the Canes would begin offseason workouts.
“I’ve been doing research on conditioning and skills we can do without the ball,” she said. “I’ve been planning some activities that look like volleyball, but it will be more like imaginary volleyball, still going through our form and our footwork.
“But I haven’t met the girls yet. We haven’t stepped foot on the court. I’m prepared to do the best that I can. I’m sure all of the coaches are, with everything as it is now.”
While the odds certainly are stacked against Pearson in severals ways, Demastus remains confident she’ll be able to overcome them and help maintain the school’s volleyball tradition.
“She’s well-acquainted with the area; she’s well-acquainted with the schools around us,” Demastus said. “I think she’s a great addition to our volleyball program. I think she’s one who can continue on and even increase the success the volleyball team has had the past several years.”