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Thursday, April 25, 2019

Club Volleyball Helps Highlands Libero Earn College Scholarship

Gessner Continued Playing Club Ball after Final Game with Bluebirds

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands senior Olivia Gessner (middle) signs her letter of intent to play volleyball at Indiana Tech while father Matt (behind) watches. Gessner helped the Highlands volleyball team to consecutive 36th District championships.
Olivia Gessner may have stepped off the court for the last time as a member of the Highlands Bluebirds volleyball team on Oct. 15, 2018 at Dayton following a 3-0 (28-26, 25-17, 25-22) loss to Dixie Heights in the 9th Region Quarterfinals.

Gessner, a libero and defensive specialist, was one of two seniors on the team along with her good friend Margot Seidel, an outside hitter and defensive specialist. The two helped Highlands to two consecutive 36th District championships and 25-11 seasons. They also helped Highlands to the program's first-ever 9th Region Tournament win over Dixie Heights in the quarterfinals in 2017 since the Kentucky High School Athletic Association placed Highlands in that region after the 2011 season.

But Gessner continued to play for the Crush Volleyball Club out of Erlanger. The schedule for CVCs 18-and-Under squad lists two tournaments left in the season. High School players can continue playing club volleyball through the spring of their senior years of high school following the end of the high school season in the fall.

"Obviously, it kind of kept me in shape for high school season," Gessner said. "After playing club in high school, I realized I wasn't really ready to see volleyball out of my life, which is kind of what pushed me into pursuing a college career."

Gessner signed to play volleyball for the Indiana Tech Warriors located in Fort Wayne (Indiana) on Friday. The Warriors are in the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.

Highlands Head Coach Katelyn Sallee said playing club volleyball in the spring and summer helps recruitment out a lot. Sallee was an all-Ohio Valley Conference setter at Morehead State University.

"You have college coaches who are coaching through their own seasons in the fall," Sallee said. "Their recruiting resources are almost exclusively put toward spring and summer. So if you're not playing in the spring and summer, it's going to be hard for you to be seen. You do a lot of work to prepare whether it's film, getting your resources together to send to coaches in the fall. So you're having a lot of dialogue with coaches, but a lot times they'll say, 'I'm very interested. But I'm going to wait until spring to see you.' There's more of a preparation going on in the fall then it's more of a harvest in the spring if that makes sense. That's kind of my perspective on it."

The scholarship is a combined athletic and academic scholarship. Gessner said a good portion of her tuition will be paid for. Gessner said her grade-point average at Highlands is a 3.4 out of four on an unweighted scale.

Gessner said Indiana Tech and Head Coach Kourtney Wilson began recruiting her at the beginning of her senior year. Gessner participated in a college combine and Indiana Tech invited her to go on a tour of the campus.

Gessner hopes to stay at a libero spot at Indiana Tech. The Warriors finished 20-15 last season including 10-10 in conference play. They lost to Cornerstone University out of Grand Rapids (Michigan) in the conference tournament quarterfinals, 3-1 (25-19, 22-25, 25-14, 25-20).

"Clearly, I'm a defensive player. I'm kind of short so that's kind of where I'm at," Gessner said. "But I'm working on specific skills like working with blockers because it's hard to just go into a new team where you don't really know how everyone plays to get used to them."

Gessner said she does not know any of her future teammates at Indiana Tech. But junior setter Audrey Graves played club volleyball with another player going there.

Highlands will have a nice senior class next fall. The leading returning defensive specialists are juniors Rylee Kirschenbaum, Brooke Biltz, Navaeh Votel and freshman Madison Clore.

"I've learned to be determined," Biltz said. "(Gessner has) always had a really big influence on me not just on the court, but also in school. Never give up no matter how corny that sounds. She's a hard worker and a really hard drive."

Gessner also played basketball for three years in high school. Gessner helped the Bluebirds to the third and fourth of five consecutive district championships. But she played just volleyball as a senior.

"I loved volleyball and basketball, but there was a point where I was having volleyball and basketball twice a day," Gessner said. "It was kind overlapping and it wasn't really fair to my teammates on both sides. I picked what I really fell in love with. I knew that I wanted to pursue that in college so I just decided to focus more on volleyball my senior year."

Gessner's parents, Mandy and Matt, started the Little Birds volleyball program. She has been there since the start and coached some of the teammates from the 2018 team such as freshmen CC Shick and Nicole Ossege.

"To actually get to play with them was really cool," Gessner said. "I'm really excited to see where the program goes because of the Little Birds program because they're getting to play the game earlier and it's really going to be fun. I do plan on being involved after college because I really enjoy it."

One of Gessner's biggest games came early in the season against Kings (Ohio). Sallee credited her for a number of digs that let the Bluebirds win in four games as opposed to going to five. That marked the first win over Kings since Sallee had become head coach in 2014.

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