By Blake Ells
When the volleyball season began, Libby Grace Gann was tasked with a tall order. She was the only senior on a team with a new coach and just one junior to complement her experience.
Former coach Haven O’Quinn left Mountain Brook High for Birmingham-Southern College after leading the squad to three straight state championships. Just before the season started, Vickie Nichols took over as coach, with all odds stacked against her success.
With the help of Gann’s senior leadership, Nichols and the Spartans finished their season in the state semi-finals.
“I started on the varsity team as a freshman,” said Gann. “I’ve been playing with so many older people; I’ve always been the youngest. Before (O’Quinn) left, I already knew that I was going to have to take on a leadership role, so I was prepared for it. Not many people have an opportunity to be the only senior on a team. A lot of people might see that challenge as a negative, but we never did.”
Instead, the Spartans saw youth as an opportunity. Gann knew that the younger players on her team had not yet reached their full potential and that she could watch them mature throughout her senior season. And while she remains extremely close to O’Quinn, she knew that their relationship as player and coach would eventually come to an end.
“I just looked at it as a new challenge,” said Gann. “I wasn’t the youngest, and having an opportunity to be the leader was a great experience for me to have going into college. I feel like I’m better prepared.”
The most important thing Gann wanted to impress upon her underclassmen was passion. Gann is the Over the Mountain Journal’s 2017 Volleyball Player of the Year, and she wanted her teammates to enjoy the sport as much as she did in her junior season.
She never wanted any of her teammates to feel a sport was a chore or an obligation.
“I loved going to practice,” said Gann. “I loved seeing all of my friends. I wanted to leave them to have fun and enjoy it, because some people play sports because they’re made to, not because they enjoy it. I’ve been playing volleyball since I was 11 or 12, so I just wanted to help each of them enjoy each of the years they have to come.”
Gann feels confident about the squad that she’ll leave behind.
“They haven’t even reached their full potential yet,” she said. “I don’t think they realize how good that they’re actually going to be. Even during the season, I thought, ‘Holy cow. Y’all are going to be amazing next year.’ Each of them is well-rounded, and each of them can play any position. They’re going to be extraordinary next year.”
Next year, Gann will be playing for the University of Alabama in Huntsville Chargers, where she has been committed since before the season began. She hopes to study nursing or biology. ❖
MEMBERS OF THE 2017 ALL-OVER THE MOUNTAIN HIGH SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL TEAM
Grace Carr, Mountain Brook
Torie Denkers, Oak Mountain
Marlee Johnson, Spain Park
Paige Shaw, Hoover
Marinna Dorolek, Altamont
Claire Lynton, Altamont
Ellie Dayhuff, Mountain Brook
Kaitlyn Lund, Oak Mountain
Rya Mckinnon, Hoover
Kendall Scharbert, Oak Mountain
Libby Grace Gann, Mountain Brook
Jamie Gregg, Hoover
Kaley Bruce, Briarwood
Ainsley Schultz, Vestavia
Savannah Gibbs, Hoover
Cameron Rueschenberg, Oak Mountain
Keller Lovvorn, Oak Mountain
Anna Donohue, Briarwood
COACH OF THE YEAR
Tien Le, Oak Mountain
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Libby Grace Gann, Mountain Brook