Harry Walker and Crystal Cox Walker were shocked.
Destiny Cox, their teenage daughter — well on her way to becoming a track star, just like her mom — sat at the dinner table and broke the news to her parents.
“I want to play volleyball.”
Harry and Crystal had struggled to find child care for Destiny once she transitioned to middle school, with aftercare programs no longer an option.
In their search, her parents decided to approach the volleyball coach, who happened to be one of Destiny’s teachers. After a short discussion, the coach agreed to let Destiny stay with the team after school as the team manager.
Despite the sixth grader not playing a single minute of volleyball, Harry and Crystal made sure they were in the stands.
“We would actually go to the game to watch Destiny be the water girl and the line referee,” Crystal said. “We were there in the stands cheering for her when she made a good call.”
Destiny made the team the following year, and successfully balanced playing volleyball and running track. With her tall frame and long limbs, Destiny was already developing into a standout on the volleyball court. But everyone knew running was in her DNA. Track – that was Destiny’s future.
Crystal competed in track and field at UNC from 1997 to 2001, setting a school record for the indoor 60-meter dash before competing at the highest level when she contended in the women's 4x400-meter relay at the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics. Since childhood, everyone assumed Destiny, too, would run track — until that fateful night at the dinner table when Destiny spoke up.
“It was a shocker,” Harry said. “I actually told her, ‘Hey, I don't care what you do, you can play volleyball all you want, but you've got to run track.' Well, needless to say that changed later that evening after (her) mom and I spoke about it and said, 'We won’t put pressure on her about track; we need to let her follow her dreams.'”
Destiny's parents weren't the only ones who wanted her to stick with track at first.
“A lot of my former competitors across the country that are now coaching collegiately, they called me and they were so mad at me,” Crystal said. “They were like, ‘Why didn’t you get her to run track?’ because they were actually prepared to recruit her. But after that shifted to volleyball, that just kind of changed the trajectory of the story.”
But Destiny began playing at the club level at the Triangle Volleyball Club, playing year-round. Despite playing on the East Coast – the sport is usually dominated by the West – she was falling in love with the game.
The Girl From the East Coast
At 14, most kids are still finding their footing as athletes. Not Destiny.
As an outside left hitter, she picked up every new skill her coaches threw at her with ease. She had it all as an athlete: her agility, speed and height made Destiny a force on the court even as an eighth grader. She had a vertical reach of 10 and a half feet — an NCAA regulation volleyball net is only seven feet and 4.125 inches tall — and Crystal said she used to have coaches send her pictures of Destiny jumping with her full torso above the net.
She was a natural.
Parents coming up to Harry and Crystal in the stands at tournaments became normal. As Destiny solidified her name across North Carolina and the East Coast, she started turning heads across the country.
Some of those heads belonged to the coaches on the U.S. Women's Junior National Team.
Destiny had impressed at the 2016 AAU Championships along with the 2017 Junior National Championship and even won gold with the 2017 High Performance A1 National Training Team. But trying out for the USA women's volleyball junior national team in 2018 was Destiny’s most nerve-wracking experience to date.
Team USA made sure that the 6-foot-1, outside hitter from Carrboro made it to Colorado Springs for the pre-tournament trainings. After a few weeks of training, hard work, sweat, a flight to Aguascalientes, Mexico, and a few dominating games, Destiny felt the weight of the gold medal.
“It was just eye-opening to see that even though I was only 17 at the time, I could still see that this is what my life could be like even after college and when I’m older into my 20s,” Destiny said. “It was like a cool preview of what it could be like being professional.”
Truly Tar Heel Born, Tar Heel Bred
If you walked around UNC’s track at any given time in the early 2000s, there was a great chance of spotting toddler Destiny. As Crystal trained as a sprinter for UNC, young Destiny watched and learned from high-caliber athletes, even meeting some faces that would return later in life.
“She was just that little girl that truly is Tar Heel born, Tar Heel bred,” Crystal said.
Despite the tennis coach attempting to recruit toddler-aged Destiny while Crystal was lifting weights, the most impactful relationship was Crystal’s friendship with head volleyball coach Joe Sagula.
“Her mom was friends with a number of volleyball players at the time and I met her mom and Destiny would be out on the track running around,” Sagula said.
In seventh grade, Destiny decided to introduce herself to Coach Sagula after traveling the short distance from Carrboro to campus to watch a UNC volleyball match. Sagula was interested in the homegrown talent.
As a four-your starter at Carrboro High School, Destiny led the team to a pair of Eastern Region runner-up finishes in 2014-15 and helped capture back-to-back state titles in 2016 and 2017, going on to earn NCHSAA 2A State Most Valuable Player honors two consecutive years.
The young outside hitter had offers from across the country, but during recruitment, she set her heart on making her mark at UNC.
“There was always in the back of my mind something about UNC and that I just always wanted to go here,” Destiny said. “And it’s just something about Coach — me and him click so well. That definitely was a big factor in why I decided to go here.”
On the evening of Aug. 24, 2018, Destiny was in that strange spot where nerves meet excitement. It was her first college game ever, and the Big Ten Challenge against No. 9 Wisconsin — but despite the tough competition, she was excited. Destiny not only started that first game – and every other that season – but she led in both kills and points, tallying 13 and 14, respectively. And the following game, Destiny recorded her first double-double with 22 kills and 15 digs.
That season, she led the team with 290 kills, 98 digs and 39 blocks. And followed that up with 146 kills, 73 blocks and a single game career-best in attack percentage and blocks (in two games) that sophomore season. Now as a junior, the team looks to her for guidance and mentorship.
“My greatest accomplishment would be coming to UNC," Cox said. "Just because I could have honestly gone anywhere in the country I wanted to play volleyball, and so deciding to come here to an ACC school definitely surprised a lot of people, but I'm super proud of it.”
After years of making a name for herself, proving herself as an East Coast volleyball player and defending the decision she made that night at the kitchen table, Destiny is fulfilling what she always knew she wanted.
“It’s almost just like it’s in my name,” Destiny said. “It’s destiny. It is your destiny to go be this great volleyball player one day. I put a lot of pressure on myself to have this standard of greatness. I just want to achieve and be at the top in volleyball for as long as possible.”
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