Columbus East junior Gabby Dean spent much of the past offseason finding ways to make herself a much faster and stronger player on the volleyball court this year.
All of her high school and club coaches helped Dean with her technique and delivery and learning how to place the ball in certain spots in transition.
Needless to say, this season was a breakthrough year for Dean. She earned Class 4A first-team All-State and 4A South All-District honors.
Her contributions on the court offensively on the attack and defensively in blocking earned Dean The Republic Volleyball Player of the Year honors.
Throughout the season, Dean gave the Olympians a big spark in the middle.
“She improved drastically this year for us,” East coach Ellyn McIntosh said. “She gave us much more offense, much more firepower. She came in, and she’d give us a little burst of energy that we need when she got to the front row, or she’d give us a big kill or big block right when we needed it. There was definitely some pretty good firepower out of Gabby this year.”
The season started out much different for Dean and the rest of her teammates. Back in June, flash floods caused substantial damage to the main and auxiliary gyms at East, and the team had to practice elsewhere during the summer.
When the season officially got underway, the Olympians played their games at Southside Elementary while the gym at East was getting refurbished. In late September, they returned back to their home gym.
The changes didn’t seem to affect the team. The Olympians finished 28-5 and were ranked in the top 10 in 4A for much of the season. They won the Hoosier Hills Conference title by going undefeated and avenged their sectional final loss to Martinsville from the year before to capture the championship this year. East eventually fell to 4A state runner-up Castle in the regional final.
“I think we had a really good season, and we met a lot of our goals like winning conference and winning sectional,” Dean said. “We came up a little bit short , but we fought really hard all throughout the season and had a lot of big wins. Overall, I think it was a pretty successful season.”
One advantage that Dean had over the rest of her opponents was her height. Standing at 6 feet, 4 inches, she caused a fit for opponents at the net.
Dean led the team with 314 kills, which nearly doubled her 171 kills last year, and 96 total blocks, up from 70 a year ago. She finished fourth on the team with 33 aces. She also recorded 27 digs.
“We’re definitely lucky we have someone of her height on our team, but she has the skill along with the height,” McIntosh said. “She worked hard in the offseason. I think her focus and her dedication to the sport has made a huge impact on how she’s played for us this year.”
McIntosh said Dean has been a little bit quiet in the communication department, but has definitely stepped in and gradually is getting comfortable in that role.
“She was a little bit quieter than what I would prefer, but I think she’s still coming into it. She’s definitely stepping up in the communication aspect of her role,” McIntosh said.
Dean spent most of her youth playing alongside her current East teammates. She said the communication has gotten better each year.
“We already have that communication a little bit, but it really grew stronger this season, which helped us to get farther,” Dean said. “Knowing that I was an upperclassmen, I really had to step up my communication and help the team with that.”
Even though the season didn’t end how Dean wanted, there’s plenty of optimism for next year. The Olympians likely will be considered a favorite to defend their conference and sectional crowns.
Dean knows though that a lot of the void left from graduating seniors Cadence Gilley, Reece Whitehead, Katy Jordan and Kaitlyn Carothers will fall on her shoulders.
“We have a lot of depth in our program right now, so that’s really promising for next year,” Dean said. “I think that we’re going to be really good, and I’ll definitely have to pick up more of a leadership, more of a vocal role than I’ve had in the past with those seniors being gone, so that’ll be a new challenge for me.
“Even losing this year, it made us realize how much more we wanted it and how much more we’re going to work for it next year, so I’m excited,” she added.
Dean will have more free time to concentrate on her game in the offseason. Earlier this month, she made the decision to not pursue basketball this winter after playing her freshman and sophomore years because she wanted to focus strictly on volleyball. She committed to play volleyball for Illinois in July.
“We look for her to not only see her presence on the court but also to be a leader. We need those leaderships skills on and off the court,” McIntosh said. “Obviously with her height, we’ll naturally look to her, but besides the height, I think she can do it with her attitude and her play, as well. She’s focusing on just volleyball now and no basketball, so definitely looking forward to Gabby to being a big presence on and off the court, as well as with the team next year.”
The 2021 Republic All-Area Volleyball team:
Gabby Dean, Columbus East: The junior led the Olympians with 314 kills and 96 blocks and had 27 digs and 33 aces.
Cadence Gilley, Columbus East: The senior led the Olympians with 391 digs and 79 aces and had 86 assists.
Reece Whitehead, Columbus East: The senior recorded 243 kills, 25 blocks, 257 digs and 37 aces.
Katy Jordan, Columbus East: The senior led the Olympians with 937 assists and had 58 kills, 25 blocks, 212 digs and 17 aces.
Saige Stahl, Columbus East: The junior recorded 253 kills, 38 blocks and 113 digs.
Ruthie Bingham, Trinity Lutheran: The senior recorded 365 kills, 30 blocks, 407 digs and 38 aces.
Kamzi Gross, Trinity Lutheran: The senior led the Cougars with 581 digs and had 35 assists and 49 aces.
Bailey Tabeling, Trinity Lutheran: The junior led the Cougars with 409 kills and 39 blocks and had 189 digs and 31 aces.
Stella Kleffman, Trinity Lutheran: The senior led the Cougars with 56 aces and had 149 kills, 18 blocks and 425 digs.
Addison Darlage, Trinty Lutheran: The freshman led the Cougars with 1,147 assists and had 38 kills, 12 blocks, 260 digs and 43 aces.
Andie Clark, Hauser: The senior led the Jets with 616 digs and 80 aces and had 27 assists.
Adrianna Musillami, Hauser: The senior led the Jets with 656 assists and had 164 digs and 45 aces.
Sarah Bennett, Columbus North: The senior led the Bull Dogs with 228 kills and 54 blocks and had 85 digs and 20 aces
Reagan Kane, Columbus North: The senior led the Bull Dogs with 598 assists and 38 aces and had 67 kills, 35 blocks and 236 digs.
Megan Vogel, Jennings County: The senior led the Panthers with 718 assists and 63 aces and had 80 kills, 49 blocks and 212 digs.
Alivia Elmore, Jennings County: The sophomore led the Panthers with 204 kills and 382 digs and had 26 blocks and 20 aces.
Gracie Crawhorn, Edinburgh: The junior led the Lancers with 119 kills, 30 blocks and eight aces and had 112 digs.
Brown County: Abigail Bowman, Londyn Koester, Abigail Watson. Columbus East: Libby Dippold, Kenzie Foster, Chloe Gilley. Columbus North: Grace Chapman, Sydney Cooper. Edinburgh: Alyssa Funkhouser. Hauser: Kenze Bostic, Charlie Clark. Jennings County: Zoie Suhre. South Decatur: Loryn Pate, Brook Somers. Trinity Lutheran: Carson Bowling, Madison Keith, Laura Roeder.