St. Clair women's volleyball captain Katie Gilbert leads by her play on the court
March, 1999 (anniversary year!)
(one of my first features and I was fortunate to interview my favourite volleyball player. We became life long friends, a truly inspiring person)
(I remember the interview, she was entertaining, funny, and ha, her laugh. I said only 30 minutes needed, but we were over a hour as she started asking questions about me and a friendship was born. I ate a lot of candy at the school's snack booth, due to her working there. Luckily I was running a lot! Through our friendship, I became a better runner, writer and person, for one, she instilled confidence in me to truly believe in myself and push myself. She is the only athlete I interviewed that I asked out. Good times.
(Earlier in the season, I interviewed her after games. The first game I was somewhat nervous. She was intense out there and the team loss. She didn't look happy. But she was so pleasant and friendly and next day or so, when I walked by the snack booth, I heard my name. She remembered me!)
(had more actions photos, but passed them all on to her)
By Rob J. Ross
WINDSOR, ON. - Her intense look might give a wrong impression. Lacking a smile, she appears ready to kill. She is serious, extremely focused. Her game face is on.
A back row player misplays a ball as it deflects off her arm and sails to the right. It appears to be a point given up, as the ball is about to hit the floor.
Suddenly a body dives across the floor, arm and hand stretched out to stop the ball. It is bumped back up into the air and a team-mate hits the ball over the net.
That effort saves a point.
Katie Gilbert had to get it done. She wouldn't give up.
Gilbert, the captain of St. Clair's women's volleyball team, is a competitor, prepared to work hard and put her heart into every effort and performance.
The 21-year old advertising student just completed her third season on the varsity team. Proving she enjoys a challenge, Gilbert took on the role as the team's setter, after years at the power position.
Volleyball's version of a quarterback, the setter controls the team's offensive attack, including setting the ball to the hitters.
Last season, Gilbert, at power, produced 95 kills, second on the team behind all-star Gina Gural. Her 2.6 points per game placed her 10th overall in scoring, for the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association's (OCAA) West Region.
As the last link to St. Clair's OCAA championship team from 1997, Gilbert brought this year's team her experience, knowledge and passion for the game.
Often her intensity pushes her to a level that bypasses the concern of injury or the thought an effort to go for the ball may be futile. Last second dives to dig or bump the ball back into play are part of her game.
Her outstanding play earned her the team's Best Defensive Player award last season and it's likely she earn it again this season.
All this accomplished by a slim five foot six athletic player.
"She brings to this team what it takes to win," says Saints' coach Judy Lortie. "No matter where the ball is, a body is hitting the floor or there's a bruise on the body. There's something being done to better everything."
In February of this year, with the playoffs on the line, St. Clair faced a must win against Niagara College.
Game one goes to Niagara and they are leading game two, 8-3. The Saints need to win this game to prevent them from falling behind two games to none, in the best of five affair.
Somebody needs to step up and ignite the team. The captain take the initiative.
Last season, Gilbert's 25 serving aces was fourth best in the entire OCAA.
Gilbert serves for nine consecutive points, including two aces, giving the Saints a 12-8 lead. Momentum gained, the Saints take game two, 15-11. St. Clair goes on to win the match in five games, highlighted by an astonishing performance by their captain, number 14.
Gilbert admits she is a competitive athlete.
"I'm extremely dedicated," she says. "I always want to do it. If I don't get it the first time, I'm going to do it the second time. If it's not done that second time, there's going to be a third time. I have to get it. If somebody says to me, 'Don't worry about it, you can't do it'. I'll be like, Oh no, I can!
The LaSalle native made the jump from the high school game at Windsor Holy Names to a varsity team that would go on to capture St. Clair's first Ontario championship in women's volleyball in her first collegiate season.
"It was amazing," recalls Gilbert, of winning gold and then representing Ontario at the Canadian championships.
It is the highlight of her career, for not only the provincial win, but the learning experience, on a team featuring Pam Black, Jody Fedak and Kandice McLaughlin, three of the best players to every wear a Saints' jersey.
"I played with some of the best girls I've ever seen play volleyball," Gilbert says. "Those girls taught me a lot. They taught me about winning, taught me about losing."
In a whisper-like voice, an owl could only hear, Gilbert tells where the Ontario champs placed at the National tournament.
"It was great getting there, then the tables got turned."
St. Clair placed fifth in the six team event. But for the season overall, the Saints compiled a 23-5 record.
Gilbert hopes she passes on the same lessons to current team-mates that she received during her rookie season. She feels her work ethic is her best skill and her competitive nature makes her a dependable player.
"I don't think I'm an amazing player. I don't think I'm outstanding, but I think I'm somebody you always can depend on to be there and somebody you can depend on to give 120 percent, every practice, every game."
It is what she expects from herself and what she expects from everyone on her teams.
"The type of player that I respect and admire goes beyond just skills. It's somebody dedicated to the team and you can see that dedication, that passion in the way they play."
Players and coaches are all impressed with the attitude Gilbert brings with her presence on the court.
"I view Katie as a very dedicated and hard working," says Allison Popa, a setter on the 1996/97 team. "She works hard, shows up and she is just a great person."
The rookies this season look to Gilbert for answers to questions, says second-year player Lindsey Turner, along with being their mentally tough leader.
"When we're emotionally down, she's there to pick us up."
Tim Hommel, head coach for Holy Names women's volleyball, says, "(Katie) is one of the most dedicated players I've ever coached."
Hommel who also taught Gilbert in the classroom, says she always wanted to be challenged and never settled for what she had just achieved.
"She sets very high expectations of herself. She always competed with herself. She wanted to be better than she was the last time."
Gilbert graduated from Holy Names, as the volleyball team's MVP.
Gilbert's continuous drive, to reach her goals and then set ones higher, is not lost on her family and they understand her competitive spirit.
"We're definitely very aware of her desire to do her best, not only for her to do her best, but everybody she's with. If she's on a team, she wants everyone to give 100 percent," says Katie's sister, Kim, the oldest of four girls (also Kerri and Kristin), to parents Don and Sandy Gilbert.
"She doesn't let aches and pains get to her. When Kate is down, she gets back up," Kim adds.
Kate and Kerri, share similar athletic characteristics, adds Kim.
"A bruise to them is like an achievement," she laughs, recalling many days when the pair of siblings would come home from volleyball or baseball, proudly displaying their wounds.
Due to her intensity, Gilbert's nature may be misunderstood by others, even those on her team.
"I think I get too intense, that sometimes I inadvertently drag people in it with me, who maybe aren't at that same level as I am," she confesses.
During a game, while intense and focused and she makes a mistake, she's upset at herself, though team-mates may feel it's directed at them.
"People may think she's 'mad at me', but it's not like that at all. I would never look at someone and go, we lost that game because of you. I don't think that. I think that on my team there's 12 people, 10 players and two coaches and we're out there together."
Observers may have an impression that the girl never smiles. Gilbert laughs at the thought that team-mates would describe her as too intense and she doesn't smile enough.
"I never found it to be a big issue. I think ordinarily I smile a lot. But, playing, I don't think, oh, got to SMILE! It's not something that occurs to me."
The court is reserved for her game face.
Away from the game, Gilbert possesses a humourous and witty personality. She would be a classic radio or TV interview. Her descriptions of her memorable events or favourite activities include her animated and enthusiastic expressions and body language.
One of her fondest memories comes from the Canadian volleyball championship, when Gilbert went up against a player, later named to the All-Canadian team.
"I blocked her by myself, like four times. I was so excited. I was like, oh, my gosh, I'm HUGE right now!," she exclaims with a big smile, recalling the day. "I was really happy and she hated me. She wanted to beat me up after the game."
Away from the court and school, Gilbert enjoys reading and movies, ranging from musicals to action and comedy. She loves Grease.
"That's like all-time woo-hoo!"
She smiles, giggles, as she reveals what may be her worst habit.
"I have the biggest sweet tooth in the world. Any form of candy you throw at me, I'll eat it. I'm a big candy connoisseur."
Coming to St. Clair wasn't in the plans originally, but her interest in advertising and making commercials, one she had since early in high school, took precedence over suggestions from her family.
"I was supposed to go to the University of Windsor, but I didn't want too, because there was nothing I wanted to take there. I always wanted to go into advertising."
Now, certified in advertising, and heading into the media buying field (locating the best mediums, from TV to magazines, for corporate ads).
Upon graduating, Gilbert was one of five third year advertising students chosen by St. Clair faculty to represent the school, at the Canadian Advertising Educators Integrated Marketing competition.
"She's a very good student," St. Clair Professor Susan Davis says, adding Gilbert has become a teacher's assistant, marking first and year student's work.
Gilbert's work on and off the court, earned her the Al Hoffman award, for academic and athletic achievement.
Sports and advertising offers Gilbert what she enjoys in life, interacting with people and taking on challenges.
"I love sports. I love being active. It gives me a balance. I'm the type of person that needs variety in life. I get bored easily with monotony.
"I love my schooling. I'm very interested in what I'm taking. When you find things you love, you always make time for them. That goes for anything in your life."
The ball deflects off of a block by the Saints and sails towards the player's bench. She reacts, dives, sliding on her knees in an attempt to keep the ball in play. She collides awkwardly with the bench, but is able to get to the ball, passing it back to a team-mate.
The Saints have control of the ball, thanks to the resilient effort of their captain, Katie Gilbert.