Freshman Parker Fits Right In
Sept. 9, 2010
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE - Gabbi Parker shuffled down the face of the net and leaped into blocking mode. Then she did it again. And again.
Then she peeled away from the net. On her way past, Washington's new outside hitter spiked coach Jim McLaughlin with something that made the veteran engine of the Huskies' volleyball machine break into a hearty laugh.
Leave it to Parker to turn a routine drill at the end of a three-hour practice this week into something fun.
Nothing is ordinary with this precocious freshman.
"The kids on the team love her, they love everything about her," McLaughlin said of the 6-foot newcomer, who made her first collegiate start last weekend as the ninth-ranked Huskies wiped out Gonzaga in straight sets.
"Going into practice with her is a joy for me," the 10th-year coach said. "I love being around that kid and coaching her."
The smiling, engaging Parker is one of three true freshmen for Washington (5-0), which heads east this weekend on its longest road trip of the season. On Friday, the Huskies meet host Georgia, which the UW hasn't faced in 12 years. On Saturday in the Bulldog Invitational in Athens, Ga., Washington plays Georgia Tech and Florida Gulf Coast.
The Huskies just returned from Boise, Idaho, where last weekend they competed again in the Northwest Challenge. It should be called the Northwest Unchallenged. The Huskies swept Boise State, Portland State and Gonzaga in nine consecutive sets for their third consecutive title in that early-season tournament.
Washington hasn't lost a set yet this season. Last season the Huskies started the fall with straight-set wins in its first 15 matches and set a school-record by winning 46 consecutive sets. They ended up second in the Pac-10 and 24-6 overall -- yet disappointed. Their eighth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance ended in the second round with a loss to Colorado State.
Since then, McLaughlin has added Parker, her current roommate Stephanie Stoll, a 6-2 middle blocker from Issaquah, Wash., High School, and fellow freshman Anna Cesari, a setter from Woodway. The Huskies have also welcomed redshirt freshman libero Jenna Orlandini and sophomore outside hitter Kylin Muñoz to the starting lineup for the first time. This past Saturday, Muñoz started the first match of UW's double-header and had seven kills against Boise State before Parker stepped in against Gonzaga later in the day.
Though inexperienced - she hasn't even sat in her first college class yet -- Parker is gaining prominence with each match. She has 11 kills in 22 total attacks this season. McLaughlin says "she's got a really good arm. She's learning how to pass. She's processing a lot of information in a short period of time. She's only going to get better and better."
Parker admits she is adjusting to the speed of the college game, and to overcoming a fear of mistakes as she focuses on the alignment of her teammates instead of just herself. She is also finally getting the hang of McLaughlin's meticulous "white boards" - three big dry-erase boards the coach uses to track players' practice statistics, sketch play diagrams and set his "gold-medal square" system of defense and alignments.
It helps that her high school coach at Sheldon High School in Eugene, Oregon adopted a version of McLaughlin's white boards while Parker became an all-state star as a junior and senior. But not much.
"The first week, I couldn't read anything," Parker said, looking over at the boards standing ominously on the sideline following practice. "I had to have three people help me all at once."
She could have been a Duck - but not really.
She was born in raised in Eugene, minutes from the University of Oregon. Her mother, Danielle DeGrange, is a former volleyball player at Portland's George Fox University who transferred and walked on to Oregon's track team as a thrower.
"But I can honestly say, growing up in Eugene I was never a Duck fan," Gabbi said, smiling sheepishly. "My whole family was Beaver fans, so I was actually leaning toward OSU when I first started thinking about volleyball and college."
She tried volleyball in third grade, but hated being coached by her mother - "both my parents can vouch for that," she says with a chuckle. Plus, she says she "was never a sports fanatic. I was artsy, into ballet, stuff like that."
But by sixth grade, her competitiveness emerged. She was tall for her age, so volleyball was a natural fit.
She was going to camps at Oregon State, down the road from home, for years until she wanted a change following her sophomore year at Sheldon. So she attended Washington's summer camp.
Great idea - for her and for the Huskies. By the end of it, she had committed to the UW.
"It was amazing how much better I got already in just one week of camp here," Parker said, standing on the edge of the court at Hec Edmundson Pavilion following practice. "They were really direct in their recruiting of me. And a couple visits here I fell in love with the city, I fell in love with the girls and the staff is amazing.
"Obviously, it's a great program. But the school is amazing, as well. It's great to be away from home and not being too close all the time - I get homesick at times, too - but it's really nice here."
She's even got her parents wearing Husky purple back home, which is blasphemy in Eugene.
"I always get heckled a little bit from people, but it's all in really good fun. I get asked all the time, `Why aren't you a Duck?'" Parker said, smiling again.
"It's just, this place is such a good fit for me.