But her wrath nearly pushed her coaches and teammates to the edge.
“As a player, she was going to be a challenge to coach,” said UNC volleyball coach Joe Sagula. “She was just like, ‘This is who I am. I’m not changing.’ Sometimes you can’t make somebody what they aren’t.”
She was an Arizona Wildcat — until she wasn’t.
Rackham dreamed of playing volleyball for an elite Pac-12 school. And after spending a year riding the bench on her middle school team, she enlisted the help of her parents to further the dream.
“My stepdad (Marko Fong) was probably the most influential in my volleyball career,” Rackham said. “He said, ‘If this is what you want to do, I’ll figure out a way for you to do it.’”
Fong called Chris Lamb, the head coach for the Empire Volleyball Club in Santa Rosa, Calif., at the time. The only spot available was on a team meant for 14-year-olds — and Rackham was only 11.
But it wasn’t long before she claimed a starting spot. In Rackham, Lamb saw a future star.
“If you get to the beach early enough, there’s a lot of shells, and you know what the good ones look like,” he said. “You pick up the good ones.”
The club coach started to promote his fiery leader to anybody who would listen, including Sagula and Arizona coach David Rubio.
Enticed by her ferocity and court sense, Sagula called Rackham regularly and spent four hours visiting her at home.
But Sagula was hard-pressed to change her course.
“Kids from California just didn’t go across the country very often,” Rackham said. “I just didn’t see myself going that far away.”
As her senior season progressed and pressure mounted, she made her decision.
“I called the University of Arizona to commit there,” she said. “And they didn’t answer.”
Rackham immediately called Sagula to inform him of her decision. An hour later, they were still on the phone.
“If she had not told them yet, then she was still open,” Sagula said.
After discussing the decision with her parents and former coaches, Rackham had a new dream — she was going to North Carolina.
Before long, reality set in.
3,000 miles from home
June Fong had never been to Chapel Hill.
Both she and her husband pushed for their daughter to attend UNC, enticed by the academic opportunities and Sagula’s coaching style.
But as Rackham became engrossed in her college decision, their conversations became few and far between.
“It was really hard,” said June Fong, tears in her eyes. “I would pass notes underneath her bedroom door to her because that’s how serious she took it.”
When Rackham finally settled on North Carolina as her new home, her mother supported the decision wholeheartedly — but internally, her new life was sinking in.
“It just wasn’t real,” June Fong said. “It was almost like she left the country. I had never been further east than Idaho, so North Carolina might as well have been Europe. We took her to the airport, and I bawled my eyes out.”
For Rackham, the reality check was equally drastic. Having been accustomed to a West Coast lifestyle, the young Californian had to adjust to how people talked, thought, ate and acted.
Rackham and Underwood — her freshman roommate from San Diego — shared the struggle of acclimating to an entirely new climate.
“The transition is tough no matter what,” Underwood said. “But when you go 3,000 miles away from home, it makes it even that much tougher.”
Rackham was miserable for the first six months, calling home and voicing her concerns. But volleyball consumed her, and by winter break she had settled into her new home.
Soon, it would become her permanent one.
Born to coach
Lamb fondly remembers the yelling.
Nearly two decades later, Lamb still misses the sound of Rackham’s rage that would fill practice gyms daily.
“She was the angry dog you lock by the fence, barking,” he said. “I would go back right now and just spend two hours yelling at each other and love every minute of it.”
Lamb was hardly the only recipient of Rackham’s wrath. Coaches, teammates — even psychologists were subject to her unrelenting desire to win.
“(Volunteer team psychologist Ron Ginsburg) used to toss the balls to Eve for warmups,” Marko Fong said. “She would get so upset at him for not putting the ball exactly where it needed to be that he actually found himself going home and practicing the toss. She could have that kind of impact on people.”
Rackham’s stubborn competitiveness caused a rift between her and Sagula. And with no other setters on the roster to pressure her starting spot, Rackham held the freedom to act how she pleased.
“My attitude was not ideal for a coach,” Rackham said.
Sagula often found himself at a loss at how to handle Rackham’s incessant fury, so he turned to Lamb — who suggested catering to Rackham’s desire to coach.
Sagula could hardly envision Rackham as a head coach beyond her capacity to yell.
But when her leadership was most needed, Rackham stepped up.
At the beginning of her junior year, Rackham went down with an ankle injury. A clueless Underwood took her place.
“I would look over to her in the middle of the game like, ‘What play should I call? What the heck should I do?’” she said. “She was like my own personal coach.”
Eight years later, Sagula once again turned to his coach on the court. After coaching stints at Colgate, East Carolina and Florida International, Rackham returned to her adopted home to accept a position with North Carolina.
“When I told people, they were almost like, ‘What? Are you crazy?’” Sagula said.
Yet Sagula’s gamble paid off in 2014, when the Tar Heels won 29 games and reached the Elite Eight, both firsts for the program. Rackham was instrumental — earning AVCA Division I Assistant Coach of the Year honors.
“This program would be in great shape the day that I leave with Eve at the helm,” Sagula said. “She could get jobs anywhere else. She’s been offered opportunities, but she loves being at UNC. She loves Chapel Hill.”
Rackham’s family — who once thought she was bound to the West Coast — can’t imagine her anywhere else.
“She just seems to have bonded with the institution and the program,” Marko Fong said. “It really is in her blood.”