ATLANTA – Wake Forest junior Emilia Migliaccio remembers the first time she met legendary Wake Forest coach Dianne Dailey. Migliaccio was a 12-year-old junior player with an undesirable slice when she arrived at one of Dailey’s camps.
She left that week with uncontrollable excitement.
“I was cutting the ball, and at that time I did not like cutting the ball, and she said to me, ‘Just try hitting a couple of shots with your feet close together,’ and I started hitting these beautiful draws,” Migliaccio said. “I called my mom all excited and was like, ‘Mom, Coach Dailey fixed my swing!’”
Migliaccio will also never forget the flight back to campus from the Annika Intercollegiate in mid-September. Two weeks earlier over Labor Day weekend, Dailey, who retired from coaching in 2018, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Demon Deacons coach Kim Lewellen, Dailey’s replacement, had waited until Dailey received her prognosis – it came back positive – to break the news to her players.
“Everybody listened,” Lewellen said, “and then said, ‘What can we do?’”
At their next tournament, the Furman Intercollegiate late last month, the Wake Forest players started using pink ball markers and began writing the initials “CD” on their golf balls for Coach Dailey. They’ve cooked Dailey dinners, including after her first two chemotherapy treatments (her favorite so far has been a salmon and rice dish). They've walked Dailey’s dog, Mully.
“We were going to make sure we did everything we could to just be there for her,” Migliaccio said.
They also began a tradition of wearing pink during one of their rounds to honor Dailey’s cancer fight. Dailey, who still lives in Winston-Salem, N.C., made the trip to Greenville, S.C., to watch.
A month later, Dailey was again in attendance, for the team’s fall finale at the East Lake Cup. This time, though, both the men’s and women’s teams wore pink polos, showing their support in front of a national television audience during Monday’s stroke-play portion of the event.
“It’s so touching,” said Dailey, who watched Wake’s Mark Power and Vanessa Knecht win individual titles (Knecht shared the medal with Duke’s Ana Belac). “Just to be back here, watching them, supporting them and cheering them on. I miss the coaching part, but I also really love these kids. … For the men and the women to wear pink today, it meant the world to me.”
Added Migliaccio: “I could just cry thinking about it. It was so special.”
Dailey’s cancer hasn’t spread since the diagnosis. Dailey had a history of the disease in her family and more than a decade ago had a double mastectomy as a preventative measure. Though cancer was still able to develop in some leftover tissue, doctors told Dailey that those precautions were potentially lifesaving.
“It’s a curable thing,” said Dailey, who will do chemo until January, when she begins radiation. “I just have to get through it and I’m going to. … But I hope this makes more people aware. For all these folks who have families and you want to live for them, don’t short-change yourself. Give yourself credit, make sure you get regular checkups, and do everything you can to be the best you can be.”
Dailey spent 30 years leading the Wake Forest women’s golf program, leading the Demon Deacons to 30 victories, including four ACC Championships and 15 trips to the NCAA Championship. She also coached 28 All-Americans.
She misses coaching every day, but still frequents the team’s facility and spends her time doing private instruction.
“I love being around those girls,” Dailey said. “It stimulates me, and their good energy rubs off on me.”
Dailey likes to call herself the team’s biggest cheerleader. Now, though, her players are cheering just as hard – if not harder – for her.