Following sister: On and off the court

Mary Cahill and John Cahill have always been on the same frequency when it came to coaching the volleyball team here at Chapman. In many ways they’ve lived the ideal small town life, reminiscent of the premise of such shows as “Friday Night Lights” or “One Tree Hill.” They both grew up in Orange, studied here, worked here and built their lives here too.

The kicker: They’re also siblings.

Mary Cahill, who is older, happens to be her brother’s boss. But he has never minded that.

“We’ve done it (coaching) for over 20 years and it just flows,” John said. “I was raised by a lot of women in my family and my mother taught us about being kind and equality and all that, so it never really bothered me because Mary’s a great coach and she taught me the system too.”

With seven children in the family, Mary as the third oldest, took care of him and her three younger sisters much like a babysitter. As they grew older, despite a six year age difference, their bond changed to include playing sports together such as whiffle ball.

“I played gymnastics, volleyball, basketball, softball and track and field growing up so I always knew that I wanted to coach, it was really just a matter of picking one,” Mary said. “I don’t think my family was very surprised about my career choice. Our dad still comes to all of our games.”

Both siblings attended Orange High School and after two years Golden West Community College. Mary attended Chapman and got her degree in movement exercise science. The ’86 graduate was named to the All-CCAA team as a senior, was a setter on the team in 1985, the year chapman won 22 games, and was named to the Chapman Hall of Fame.

“I think one of my best memories was when Mary hit 100 wins and my dad bought a plaque and I was able to present it to her,” said John Cahill, assistant coach of the volleyball team. “Sometimes we’ll just look at each other and know what the other’s thinking, that’s how in-tune we are.”

The duo works as a team when giving advice to the volleyball women.

Mary is also known as someone who likes to joke around and have fun with her team.

One of my favorite memories of Mary is when one of my teammates made her Spam, and she told us all we HAD to try it,” said Kylie Cooke, junior psychology major and outside hitter on the team. “We then gave her grief for hazing us.”

As head coach, Mary often has to play the bad cop and is harder on the players but she counts on John to relay the message in a calmer manner.

“I think my favorite quality of his, is his temperament,” Mary said. “He’s a good dad, he has two girls. I swear all the male coaches have daughters, and that helps because as an assistant coach he can be more sympathetic with the players, when I’m yelling or screaming at them.”

While Mary’s job as head coach is full-time, John as her assistant is not. He’s a physical education teacher at El Modena high school and coaches the men’s volleyball team there.

“He’s good with coaching women, which some male coaches have a hard time doing,” Mary said. “I always remind him that he’s good at it because he has four sisters.”

John agrees with her on that count since he knows that while Mary has to be in charge he can use his position as assistant coach and maintain a balance by keeping things light and joke around with the players.

One of the best memories I have of John is when he used Lindsey’s phone to take a selfie at Cal Lutheran,” Cooke said. “The picture he took was such a dad selfie, and it became an iconic picture for the rest of our season.”

According to Mary, people have always found it weird that her younger brother is her assistant coach.

“He knows I’m the boss, but he gets a lot of freedom to work with players and so forth,” Mary said. “We’re so on the same page that it’s like co-coaching. I know when he’s working with other people, he does what I would say and our expectations are the same. He’s on time, organized and loyal.”

The women’s volleyball team

It’s always really funny when people think that they are married,” said Abby Smith, junior kinesiology major and co-captain of the team.” 

John mirrored Smith’s sentiment and recounted an anecdote where he and Mary requested to share a room to save money, while at an away game. The hotel then provided them with a king-sized bed because they saw the names Cahill and Cahill and assumed that they were a married couple.

“We see each other at least once a week and we’re obviously very close, but we definitely want separate beds when we’re traveling,” John said.

Mary is the longest-tenured head coach in Chapman history having been here 28 years and counting. She had three seasons without John before she decided she needed him as her assistant coach.

“There was one game that he missed and it was weird not having him on the bench,” Mary said. “It makes my job a lot harder.”

Carol Jue, head coach of the women’s basketball team at Chapman has known Mary for 14 years, worked with her for 7 as co-teachers the self-defense class here and their children went to Chapman day care together. They even attend each other’s games to support one another.

“It’s hard for a man to work with his sister, so it’s really neat to watch John say ‘I’m here to help you win’ and honor his role as assistant coach,” said Jue. “They think she(Mary) is so tough and hard but there’s no one more passionate or invested and they really balance each other out to get wins.”

According to Mary the only thing they every argue about is rotations or how they’re going to start on the court. She attributes a lot of their closeness to the fact that they are and have always been a large, close-knit family. To this day, they go to Oak Glen, an apple orchard in San Bernardino every October and spend Thanksgiving day at Knotts Berry farm as a family.

“We always have an Easter party and St. Patrick’s day party, and no matter what, we always have to have a cake,” Mary said.

With her mother still living a few blocks down from Chapman and most of her family living in and around Orange, Mary, who is a single mother raising her now-15 year old daughter, is used to having a very supportive family system.
“I think my advice to any other people out there like us, is to ALWAYS listen to your older sister,” Mary said.

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