Oct. 2, 2012
By Jon Cooper
Golfer Rory McIlroy recently made headlines by arriving at Medinah Country Club by car from his nearby hotel just in time to play his singles match in the Ryder Cup Finals and helping his European squad to victory.
Maja Pachale probably wondered what the fuss was about.
The former Georgia Tech volleyball player and future Georgia Tech Athletics Hall of Famer -- she'll be inducted on Oct. 19, at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center as part of the Class of 2012 -- has McIlroy beat by miles and miles and miles.
"She had to go back to Germany the first week of September and get her student visa renewed," recalled then Tech volleyball head coach Shelton Collier. "So she had to fly all the way back to Germany and then find a flight back to the U.S. The only thing she needed to do was go to Germany to get her student visa renewed. We were playing a difficult opponent the first week of September.
"She was having trouble arranging a flight to get back," he continued. "She got a flight that traveled, basically the entire time from Germany to here, got out of the plane and came directly to the match. She walked into the gym and led her team to a win. Had she not got on the flight and played there, it would have been a loss for Georgia Tech."
What's a 10-hour flight with accompanying jetlag when a Georgia Tech match is at stake?
That's how much of a competitor Pachale was and how much she loved Georgia Tech.
The former is easy to understand, as her mother, father and older sister all competed for Germany in the Olympics -- her parents in track and field, her sister in volleyball. She is still involved in sports, working for the Federation of Sports in her native country.
When Collier learned about Maja, he flew across the Atlantic and convinced Maja to come to Tech. While she knew she could make it on the volleyball court, academics were another issue.
"At first I was really skeptical if I was able to cope with the academic standard at Georgia Tech," she said. "But I told myself I will give it a try and see if I can make the most of the great chance I have been given. With all the help around the Athletic Association with the academic counseling and tutors I was able to manage finishing with a great degree."
On the court, everything came easy -- except the ball. That came out of her hand and toward opponents hard. Very hard.
"Maja was one of the hardest hitters in the ACC immediately when she came here," recalled Collier. "One thing that's a little bit unique in European volleyball players when they come to the United States, most of the time, they hit the ball harder, with more force. That's part of their culture. She brought some of that skill and power with her and then refined her game at Georgia Tech and became a great player."
Pachale won ACC Freshman of the Year in 1998 and was named First Team All-ACC her next three seasons. She capped her college career by earning 2001 Player of the Year honors.
With Pachale pounding the ball, the Yellow Jackets took home an ACC regular season championship in 2000 and made the NCAA Tournament in 2000 and '01.
She finished her college career as the school's career leader with 4.21 kills per set and with 1,836 kills, second all-time in school history.
While the records are nice and the wins even nicer, Pachale's fondest memories are of the atmosphere. She recalled the intensity of the matches with Georgia and the NCAA Tournament appearances, but held her dearest memories for the nights in O'Keefe and the enthusiastic crowds.
"The Tech fans and the student support was just awesome as well as the atmosphere with the pep band playing." She said. "Attending Georgia Tech gave me the opportunity to evolve academically but equally if not more important it broadened my horizons and let me gain experiences that will be remembered a lifetime."
She's eager to share not only the honor of being inducted into the Hall of Fame but the entire Georgia Tech volleyball experience with her boyfriend, who will accompany her from Germany. She also plans to be in attendance at O'Keefe on Oct. 21, when the team hosts Miami.
"I am really looking forward to show him the place where I spent four excellent years of my life," she said. "Also I am curious to see all the changes on campus."
About the only thing missing that weekend will be Collier, who she asked to introduce her -- he'll be coaching his Wingate University team that night, although he admitted he'll also be thinking of her.
"I'll be coaching but I'll be thinking of her on that night knowing that she'll be having such a prestigious induction," he said.
Former teammate Christine Shelby will have the honor of introducing Pachale.
Pachale, who closely follows the Yellow Jackets on Ramblinwreck.com, admitted she's looking forward to watching current star outside hitter Monique Mead live, as Mead takes aim at her records.
"I think Monique Mead is a very energetic and athletic player," she said. "I will for sure be rooting for her to set new records and I am really looking forward to see a match on Oct. 21st live!"
Collier isn't surprised Pachale is rooting for Mead.
"Maja was a good player but also very modest," he said. "She wasn't outwardly expressive. The way that she expressed herself was with her play and how hard she hit the volleyball. That's where she spoke her language, on the court, in that way."
She'll get a chance to put the sum of her experiences into words at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, something she finally believes is real. She wasn't so sure on first glance of the e-mail informing her of the honor.
"I could not believe it," she said. "But after rereading the mail a couple times it sunk in. I am really honored."