By Monica Lee
SEATTLE - If you’ve ever been to a Husky volleyball game, you know how loud and electric Alaska Airlines Arena can get. Krista Vansant kills ball after ball while Jenna Orlandini makes unbelievable digs from the backcourt.
Just as memorable though, has to be senior Gabbi Parker’s booming voice. The 6-foot outside hitter and middle blocker is the leader of all the team cheers, pumping the Huskies up to win another exciting match.
She may not see as much playing time on game day as some of her teammates, but that doesn’t mean her role is an insignificant one for the Dawgs.
“Going in I really wanted to be an All-American,” Parker said. “It’s not really feasible with the amount of playing time that I get, so my goals have more shifted towards being the best player during practice so that my teammates can become the All-Americans and we can go win the national championship.”
Parker’s maturity and selflessness are what make the Eugene, Ore., native an integral part of the No. 3 overall seeded team in the NCAA Tournament. Everything she does is for her team.
Parker switched to doubling as an outside hitter and middle blocker her senior year. Needless to say, she took on the challenge for the betterment of the team.
“I play outside or middle, wherever the need suits,” she said. “I play a lot of middle during practice because there’s only two of them (Melanie Wade and Lianna Sybeldon) so it kind of helps and gives them less jumps and more gas in the tank.”
Because she always thinks of others before herself, she’s known as “Mama Parker.”
“Gabbi is the caretaker, the mom of the team,” freshman Bailey Tanner said.
“You can go to her with life problems or if you need a hug or just to snuggle. She’s encouraging and knows how to make you feel good.”
Parker strives to be a role model for the underclassmen, too.
“I’m trying to be someone that the younger players can kind of look to and be like, ‘Well, even though she’s not playing, she’s still making the best of the situation,’” she said.
“And I hope people are seeing that because that’s what I want to portray.”
Occasionally, Parker will enter the game as a blocking substitute for outside hitter Cassie Strickland, but the majority of the games she’s yelling on the sideline to encourage her teammates and make sure their energy stays high.
“Me being loud, people just understand, ‘Oh, Gabbi’s the loud one,’” Parker explained. “When I’m quiet people are like, ‘Gabbi, we need you. Pick it up. You’re not being yourself right now,’ and that affects the team, so I think because of that it holds me accountable.
“When I see myself getting quiet that’s when I have to tell myself, ‘You need to get out of yourself. You need to stop being inside your brain and get out of it.’”
Utilizing her energetic spirit, she took over leading team cheers before and after games.
“There’s a cheer that we do in the team room after we win,” Parker said. “Kindra (Carlson) used to do that and I was like, ‘Aw, that’s a sick cheer! Yeah, I want to do that!’ So when she left, I took it on.
“I realize I’ve always liked those traditions so I just find myself wanting to take the lead in those.”
A very memorable and special time she got to lead that victory cheer was when she scored match point to clinch the Pac-12 championship against the Washington State Cougars on Nov. 29. The biggest kill was also her only kill of the night.
“I didn’t realize how big it was – me being the last person to score the point – until everybody was coming up to me like, ‘Gabbi! How was getting match point again?’” she said with a big smile.
“I don’t even think about it during the game like that. I was just so excited and I was more excited that we won the match. I didn’t even realize we had clinched the title until I saw Krista (Vansant) and our equipment manager, Karen coming over with the banner. I just couldn’t believe it.”
When she looks back at how being on the Washington volleyball team has changed her, she can’t help but boast.
“I’ve become, obviously, a better physical player,” she said. “But I’ve learned how to mature, how to think better, and how to learn better. It’s honestly affected other areas of my life other than volleyball, which I think is a huge takeaway.
“This program does so much more than turn average players into great players. This program turns girls into women, basically.”
As an Early Childhood and Family Studies major, Parker is planning to pursue a career in education after so she does some sightseeing.
“I’m going to go to grad school most likely,” Parker said. “I don’t know if my plans include pro volleyball, it might. I definitely want to travel, so if that leads me to travelling, so be it.
“But I’m definitely going to be – when I’m a full on adult and do adult things – I’ll be an elementary school teacher.”
The first travelling she hopes to do is back to Seattle for the Final Four at KeyArena Dec. 19 and 21.
“I would just be so excited,” she said, “because it would just show that all the hard work that we’ve put in has paid off. Everything that we’ve done since last January, since the last tournament we didn’t play the way that we wanted to in Nebraska and it would just show that we meant business when we came back to the gym.
“We don’t want to go just to go. That’s not going to be enough. We all want it so bad and I can’t even think of how good I’m going to feel when it happens.
“When it happens. Not if, but when.”
Parker doesn’t want to win the national championship for herself. It’ll be for all Washington fans.
“I want to be known as a good teammate. As someone that people could count on here,” Parker said. “But overall, that I’m a diehard Husky now. I bleed purple and I do everything for my team and for the fans.
“When I play I’m not only playing for myself, but I want to make sure there’s pride for Husky nation.”