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Thursday, May 28, 2020

Highlands Alum Contributing for Indiana Tech Volleyball

Gessner Digging, Serving Well for NAIA School

PHOTO: Victor Njemanze/Indiana Tech Athletics. Indiana Tech defensive specialist/libero Olivia Gessner goes into serving motion in a game last season. The 2019 Highlands alum had 29 aces and 80 digs as a freshman helping Indiana Tech to a 26-10 record and spot in the semifinals of the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference Tournament.
Highlands Class of 2019 alum Olivia Gessner looked forward to a similar role in college that she had in high school.

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The 5-foot-3-inch defensive specialist/libero helped the Highlands Bluebirds volleyball teams to consecutive 25-11 seasons mainly with her digging and serving abilities. As a senior in 2018 for the 36th District champions, Gessner had a team-high 322 digs and 69 aces.

Gessner ventured to Fort Wayne (Indiana) to play for the National Association for Intercollegiate Athletics Indiana Tech Warriors and helped them to a 26-10 record including a 13-7 mark in the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference. Gessner saw action in all 36 matches recording 29 aces and 80 digs. The 29 aces ranked second on the team and in the top 25 in the WHAC.

"It was definitely different than high school. It's a lot faster pace," Gessner said. "With volleyball being a very team-oriented sport, it takes a while to get used to everyone. But I fortunately had a lot of great girls on the team who helped me out. We got the opportunity to learn how each other plays in the first couple weeks we were there because we practiced about seven hours a day."

Gessner ventured to Fort Wayne understanding the importance of gaining trust with her teammates. Two other players on the team are from Northern Kentucky, but Gessner said she did not know them before going to college. One is Conner alum Calista Helinski, a senior outside/right side hitter and the other is sophomore defensive specialist/libero Jacey Blust, a St. Henry alum.

Indiana Tech runs a formation with two setters so that was an adjustment for Gessner. Most teams usually have just one setter.

"Our setters play from the back row, which isn't normal for most colleges," Gessner said. "I thought it was great. You have to get used to each setter. We figure out which setter works best with each player in the front row. Our coach kind of lined it up that way."

Indiana Tech Head Coach Kourtney Wilson noted Gessner came into the program in a position that had the most competition. Senior libero Madeline MacDonald had one of the best seasons by a defensive specialist in program history recording 770 digs on the season good for second in school history. MacDonald earned WHAC Libero of the Year honors and a nod on the NAIA and American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) All-America Teams in addition to a First-Team All-Conference and WHAC All-Academic Team selection. MacDonald also finished fifth in the NAIA in total digs.

"Olivia is a hard worker on and off the floor," Wilson said. "Throughout practices, she gained a lot of confidence and trust from her teammates. For this coming season, I see Olivia coming back and fighting for more time on the floor as a defensive specialist and keeping her aggressive serve in play for us."

Indiana Tech advanced to the WHAC Tournament semifinals before losing 3-1 (25-20, 25-22, 18-25, 25-18) to eventual tournament champion Lawrence Tech University (Southfield, Michigan). The Warriors finished the regular season tied with the University of Northwest Ohio (Lima) for fourth in the conference.

"It was actually a very great season," Gessner said. "I feel like we're going to keep improving even into next year. Next season, we have eight seniors so we're going to have a lot of leadership. I think it's going to be really great for us."
Indiana Tech has improved record-wise in each of the past three seasons since going 22-16 in 2015. The Warriors finished 14-21 in 2017 and 20-15 in 2018 including a 10-10 mark in WHAC play. Indiana Tech lost in the tournament quarterfinals in 2018.

Like a lot of her former classmates, Gessner credited Highlands High School for preparing her for college. She is majoring in Exercise Science.

"The teachers definitely pushed us a lot in high school," Gessner said. "I felt like a lot of my classes were actually easier in collage than they were in high school."

Gessner had to deal with non-traditional instruction once Coronavirus 2019 hit in the spring. Gessner said students should return to Indiana Tech at a normal time, but the only thing that will be different this fall is students will not return to campus after the Thanksgiving Break. Students will go online for the two weeks after that then take finals online.

"It was a little harder to focus, but I feel like it's going to prepare us for the work place in the future," Gessner said. "It gives us a little adversity to work with and challenge us a little bit."

Gessner has been working out since she's been back home. She wants to keep up her endurance in the off-season as well as working on her short sprints. She said on defense, you have short spurts of energy tracking down balls.

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