May 1, 2017
University of Utah Player Giving Back To The Sport
By Catherine Garrett
University of Utah freshman volleyball player Torre Glasker has spent much of her life on a volleyball court. And she’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Even when she’s not playing, she’s coaching – as she’s been doing the past two years for Club GSL.
Glasker, the daughter of Stephen and GSL club director Melissa Glasker of South Jordan, helped her mom with clinics and camps for years before deciding to start coaching a boys team last year.
“When Torre agreed to become a coach for us, I immediately began to think about all the lives she is going to touch as a result of her decision to want to give back to the game,” Club GSL owner Warren Van Schalkwyk said. “She coached my son’s boys team and in addition to every boy falling in love with her, she demonstrated the perfect disposition to be a coach. She’s patient and kind, and has an immense amount of knowledge about the game. And when a player or the team doesn’t give 100 percent, she is able to be firm and demanding without being mean or spiteful.”
Torre then took on a 14-2s girls squad last club season and has been coaching many of those same girls on the 15-2s team this year.
“My team is very coachable which is so nice,” Torre said. “Coaching gives me a new perspective and it also helps me give back to the game. I had amazing coaches and I want to help others be influenced by their coaches in the sport as well. I hope they’re looking at me thinking, ‘She’s where I want to be. I hope to be in her shoes.’ Coaching also keeps me on my toes knowing that I have to be a good example and role model for them.”
“We are grateful to have Torre on our coaching roster,” Van Schalkwyk said. “She coaches like she plays. She is passionate and works relentlessly to be the best. I think she is the personification of what we hope our young athletes will become.”
Torre was literally born into the sport with her mom having been a college player herself and then a coach. Torre said when she was young, she would just watch the players in the gym and couldn’t wait for her turn to play with the older girls. “But, my mom wouldn’t let me play until I got my serve over the net,” she said. “So, I worked for months until I could do it and then in second grade, I finally got to be on the court with the Bingham Junior High league.”
Torre took to volleyball, but was also passionate about another sport that her dad coached her in – softball – and she actually enjoyed being on the field more than the court for several years.
But, during a national tournament as a 14-year-old club player, Torre said something clicked for her and she “turned the corner in starting to be able to really hit the ball.”
At Bingham High, she starred in both sports and was named First Team All-State in volleyball following her sophomore, junior and senior seasons – along with an Honorable Mention distinction as a freshman – and led her teams to four top-five finishes at the 5A state tournament. As a shortstop in the Miners program, Torre was also named First Team All-State her first three seasons before graduating early and heading to the University of Utah on a volleyball scholarship.
Van Schalkwyk has known Torre for much of her life through his association with her mother, Melissa. “Torre was that kid running around the gym while her mom coached,” he said. “It's not often in our lives that we get to see someone grow from a little girl to an imposing Division 1 Athlete. Success could not have happened to a better person. Torre has always been a good athlete. Even as a youngster everyone could tell there was something special about her. But there are a lot of good players. What makes Torre stand out is how NICE she is! She's a friend to everyone, regardless of how good you are or even if you're an athlete. “
As a freshman on the Utes squad this past fall, Torre saw playing time as a libero, recording double-digit digs in games against Illinois State and Mizzou. She also played occasionally as an outside hitter – with her best outing a nine-kill, .438 hitting clip against California.
“Playing in college has been a wonderful experience for me even though it is much different than I expected,” Torre said. “At Bingham, I was one of the leaders and in college, all of your teammates have been that for their teams. It’s been an adjustment and being a college athlete is a bit of a full-time job, but it’s been awesome.”
This spring, Torre and her Utah teammates have been playing beach volleyball as the Utes have added the sport to their collegiate teams.
Torre said she loves the team aspect of volleyball. “On the days that I don’t do my best, my teammates always pick me up,” she said. “It’s also been amazing to learn about owning your role in order to be successful. You really have to work on collaboration skills, just like in life with a boss you work for and a group you work with.”
Torre said she simply wants to keep playing and coaching volleyball and getting better at both – every practice, every day.
April 25, 2017
GSL Player Battles “Back” On the Court
By Catherine Garrett
After years of struggling with scoliosis and wearing a back brace to also help adjust her shoulder blades, 18-year-old McKenzie (Kenzie) Wilson had back surgery prior to her junior year of high school. This setback took her off the volleyball court she had practically lived on since she was 12.
The daughter of Scott and Barbara Wilson of Lehi had two rods and 25 pins inserted to fix her back issues. The corrections helped her improve physically following a six-month recovery while also adding an inch and a half to her already-tall frame.
“Rebuilding Kenzie’s body was a long process and not being able to be in the gym actually fueled her to get back there quickly,” Scott Wilson said. “The day she was cleared, it was 11 o’clock in the morning and within three hours, she was in the gym. It was crazy to see that she had no arm strength to even get a serve over the net. She has worked so hard to get back to play at a high level again.”
Those extensive efforts have paid off for Kenzie as she recently committed to play for Western Wyoming in the fall, choosing the Rock Springs school for the environment, new coach and immediate chemistry she felt with the Mustangs team.
“I am so excited to play in college,” Kenzie said. “I do recognize though that I will be a student before an athlete and that, while it’s an extra privilege to play a sport in college, I am going there for an education.”
“There has been a tremendous amount of hard work that has gone in to Kenzie getting a scholarship,” Scott Wilson said. “I can’t count the number of hours we have been in the gym and it’s so exciting to see that she has been able to achieve a goal she set and worked for.”
The volleyball journey for the now-6’3” middle blocker started in 2011 when, after seven years of dance and a growth spurt, Kenzie tried out the sport at a local rec center and immediately felt comfortable on the court. “I fit right in because all the girls were tall,” she said. “It was like this shining moment for me and I realized pretty quickly that this is that I’m meant to do.”
Kenzie continued playing rec ball each season and then she would alternate and play club volleyball. “I was just always playing volleyball,” she said. “It was so fun and I just always wanted to be in the gym.”
As a freshman, she competed on the Lehi Junior High team before playing for the sophomore team in the Pioneers high school program the next year. Following her club team’s season that spring, she had her back surgery which forced her off the court for her junior year at Lehi.
Kenzie came back to compete in club the year following her surgery and then transferred to Herriman High for her senior season and made an immediate impact in the Mustangs program as the team’s leader in kills and blocks, leading to a Second Team All-Region selection. Kenzie credits Herriman’s coach Bryan Nicholson for believing in her abilities and helping her to do the same.
“Nich was a fantastic coach for me,” said Kenzie, who was named the team’s Offensive Player of the Year. “He built me up so much with my confidence, telling me, ‘You can do anything,’ and helping me be okay when I made mistakes.”
“My high school journey wasn’t exactly the way I would have planned it out, but it made me grow as a player,” Kenzie said. “I have a lot more fight in me because nothing was handed to me. I wouldn’t be where I’m at without having gone through those struggles.”
“It’s been a bit of a roller coaster filled with lots of highs and lot of lows, but it’s been a wonderful ride,” Scott Wilson said. “She has had influential coaches and established wonderful friendships.”
This year, in her seventh season of club, Kenzie plays middle blocker for GSL’s 18 Elite team. “In the beginning, our play was rough and we were a bit disconnected, but this team has shown me what a team should look like and what I want,” she said. “Plus, Warren [Van Schalkwyk] is an amazing coach who breaks techniques down and makes it easy to understand.”
“Coaching Kenzie over the last six months has been a pleasure,” Van Schalkwyk said. “My favorite thing about Kenzie is, ‘Hey coach, I have a question for you,’ which I hear about 100 times a week from her. When she learns something new, or figures out a better way to do things, her face just lights up and everyone can feel her unbridled joy.”
Kenzie’s future in volleyball had been uncertain this year following the high school season when she realized how much her body was hurting which led to doubts about staying in the sport. But, she went down to the Las Vegas Recruiting Showcase in February to explore her options. During the five-hour drive, she started feeling sick and her symptoms worsened as she pulled into town.
“She was pretty upset about not feeling well – she was dizzy and really couldn’t stand or walk – because she felt like it was one of the last chances to be seen by a coach,” Scott Wilson said. “But, by some small miracle, Kenzie was blessed to play that night and perform. I realized then how much volleyball meant to her, how much she wanted to play and saw her struggle as she felt it was slipping away.”
Kenzie not only played through her illness, but she was named a “Show Stopper” at the event and was approached by several colleges, which led to multiple campus visits and some college offers.
“Kenzie has experienced some serious physical setbacks and plays in pain most of the time, and yet you would never know it,” Van Schalkwyk said. “She absolutely loves volleyball and has developed into an amazing middle blocker, and in my opinion, will continue to improve in college. She is not playing to her full potential yet, and when she does, watch out.”
The sport has taught Kenzie life lessons, but none more important than mental toughness. “I have realized that if you get in your head, it makes you play worse, so you just need to get over things and not dwell on them,” she said.
“Volleyball has given Kenzie confidence about who she is and has really shaped her,” Scott Wilson said.
Kenzie said that with all that volleyball has taught her and given her, the highlight of her journey has been knowing where she started from and seeing where she is now.
And where she is still going.
April 11, 2017
GSL Player and Family Making Sacrifices For A Dream
By Catherine Garrett
Every little girl has a dream. So, when 15-year-old Elena Howe started playing volleyball just a few years ago, her rapid rise in the sport led her to voice her dream: to be an Olympian. That dream, along with her other short-term goals, are coming at substantial sacrifices – but the payoffs are worth the cost for Elena and her parents.
Elena, daughter of Rick and Erica Howe, aren’t your typical Salt Lake valley family driving to and from club volleyball practices multiple times a week. They aren’t even residents of Utah; they live in Elko, Nevada.
After a year of playing high school volleyball in Elko – and then basketball for her school as well – Elena’s dad contacted his former Southern California club volleyball teammate Austin Linford, now a GSL coach, to discuss opportunities in the club volleyball world.
“Austin was just a freak of nature on the court,” Rick Howe said. “At one point, he tore his rotator cuff and just played with his left hand. I definitely knew who to call for coaching advice for Elena. He knows the game.”
Rick Howe said his daughter initially didn’t want to look into club volleyball so far from home, but could visibly see the value in playing the sport year-round as an older high school teammate “was just so much better than the others.” So, the pair contacted Linford and traveled to a Salt Lake boy’s tournament to check out the club scene, thinking that they would try out club the next year.
It took Linford just a minute and a half of “peppering with Elena between sets at the tournament” for him to see talent and potential he wanted to work with. “Here was a 5’11 obvious athlete, so I told Elena and her dad that if they wait a year, it’s too late,” Linford said. “I let them know that I have a spot right now on my [15s Elite] team where she fits.”
So, “GSL bent over backwards to make it happen for Elena,” according to Rick Howe, and the Howe’s began checking their daughter out of school once a week and making the seven-hour round trip drive from Elko to Draper for one of the team’s club practices each week. “It was a real sacrifice, no doubt about it, but Elena was really serious about it,” Rick Howe said.
“I looked forward to it every week,” Elena said. “It was difficult with school, but it was such a great experience that I’m here again.”
At Elena’s first tournament, she was inserted into the match for one play. “Some parents looked at us and asked us if this was all worth it for Elena to simply get in for one rotation,” Rick Howe said. “I told them, ‘you don’t get this type of coaching where we’re from. This is a great experience.’”
An injury to a teammate opened up a front row spot for Elena and she gained more and more playing time as the season progressed. “Austin initially inserted her into games for small pieces, but he did it in areas where she could be successful,” Rick Howe said. “That really allowed her to earn her teammates’ trust and helped her with her confidence.”
“She turned herself into a volleyball player and made a huge difference for our team,” Linford said.
Just two matches into high school play this past fall back in Nevada; Elena broke her foot, taking her out for her sophomore season. She was still in a walking boot when club tryouts came around and “GSL bent over backwards again,” according to Rick Howe, putting her on Sue Dulaney’s 16 Elite team even though Dulaney had never seen Elena play. So, the Howe’s rented an apartment in the area where Erica and Elena are living for five months while Elena receives top-notch coaching at her practices twice a week while also taking private lessons from Linford during two of her off-days.
“When kids make commitments like Elena has like leaving friends and doing online schooling, they’re way more invested,” Dulaney said. “She’s not just coming to practice; she’s coming four days a week. She’s not doing this because her parents or coaches want her to; she wants this for her and has an internal kick that drives her.”
Linford said he is helping Elena “fill in the holes” with the fundamentals that many of her teammates with several years of club behind them learned long ago. Dulaney noted that Elena’s “volleyball IQ” is improving quickly. “She asks really good questions, but she used to ask, ‘What can I work on with Austin?’ and now she’s saying, ‘I know I need to do this in my lessons with Austin,’” Dulaney said.
Rick Howe said he has told his daughter, “All you have to do is say the word and we can be done with this. The day you don’t want to be here anymore, that’s fine.” But, for Elena, the dream lives on, and she said she has seen a real difference this club season in being able to attend both practices each week and work privately with Linford. And, the Howe’s continue to provide the support their daughter needs without hovering and interfering with her club experience.
The now 6’1” setter/right side hitter/outside hitter has become an integral part of Dulaney’s team that has competed in the 17 Open division much of the year and has won the gold bracket in two AAU 16s tournaments.
Rick Howe feels that aside from his daughter’s improvement in her volleyball skills, Elena has become extremely tough mentally through her club experience. “She used to be really shy and emotional and unable to really control those emotions,” he said. “Last year, she started crying in a match and Austin called a timeout and just hugged her. That was the best thing he could have done for her. But, she has since become incredibly tough and her mental development has been unreal.”
At a tournament in Las Vegas in February, Rick Howe said Dulaney let him know she was going to bench Elena for no real reason other than to see how she would react to the situation. “That was kind of cool to experience because it made me realize that you have to be in the game at all times and can’t just sit on the bench and pout because you’re not playing,” Elena said.
“Elena has faced adversity in playing volleyball and having some foot problems and other injuries,” Dulaney said. “Sometimes this can come too easy for kids, but when they have to struggle, they shine a little bit more.”
So, for now, the 15-year-old is hoping to continue to soak up the coaching she is being given in order to make the Nevada All-Team in the fall with sights set on the Junior Olympic team after that.
“With GSL, we have found that the coaches are real with you in telling you that this is where your daughter is and this is what she needs to do,” Rock Howe said. “It’s been an incredible, positive experience.”
Elena said she is very grateful for her parents’ sacrifices for her volleyball journey. “They gave up everything so I could be ‘living the dream.’”
April 5, 2017
GSL Player Headed To Montana State
By Catherine Garrett
If there’s one thing volleyball has taught GSL 18 Elite player Keira Larsen, it is the value of positivity.
The daughter of Wayne and Lisa Larsen of West Jordan noticed the need for being positive while playing for Copper Hills High School.
“When we were happy and having fun, we won,” Keira said. “I saw that it only took one negative person to bring everyone down, so I really tried to work on that to lift myself and my teammates.”
Off the court, Keira has seen how that mindset has carried her older sister, Baylie, through chemotherapy and radiation in a battle with Ewing Sarcoma the past couple years. “I used to complain a lot about being sore from volleyball or having to get up early and then I realized that my sister never complained and she definitely had a lot more to complain about than I did,” Keira said.
The 5’11” outside hitter will take that perspective to Montana State this fall to be part of the Yellow Jacket program.
I feel so completely blessed,” Keira said. “I have worked so hard and to have this pay off goes beyond just satisfaction. I am so excited for my new life and adventure ahead.”
Keira was contacted by several colleges to play the sport at the next level and although she had not considered the option before, she quickly upped her dedication to volleyball and her dad began producing highlight videos and exposing her talents further. After several campus visits, Keira said she felt at home at MSU to pursue an exercise performance degree while minoring in nutrition.
Keira competed in several other sports growing up and showed up at CHHS tryouts having never played volleyball. She learned the sport quickly and was a three-year starter – as a middle blocker her sophomore and junior years and an outside hitter this past season.
“Once I started playing, I got so involved in how I could become better and analyzing my performance all the time so I could improve,” Keira said.
The Grizzlies program struggled for much of Keira’s high school career until this past season when she led them to the state tournament for the first time in over a decade.
She started playing volleyball year round, with Club V for three years, before switching over to the Club GSL 18 Elite team, coached by Warren Van Schalkwyk, this past year.
“When Keira tried out for our team, I asked our club director Melissa Glasker [and Bingham High coach] what she knew about Keira,” Van Schalkwyk said. “Melissa’s response was, ‘That’s the outside hitter for Copper Hills and we [Bingham] could not shut her down all season. She’s good.’”
“I just felt like I needed a change and that I could be more successful somewhere else with a whole new team,” Keira said. “Warren is amazing and has taught me so much already. I wasn’t sure what I was getting in to, but it has been a good change where I am learning how to be a teammate and to have mental toughness.”
Keira’s dad, Wayne, also feels that the switch to GSL has been a good move for his daughter. “Coach Warren has really helped Keira become a more complete player,” he said. “She has learned more offensive sets and gained experience defensively. She is much more college-ready now after a season with Coach Warren.”
“I’ve loved working with Keira,” Van Schalkwyk said. “She is a joy to coach. She listens intently, gets along with everyone on the team and her easy-going personality is really fun to be around. She has been able to overcome doubts about herself and has transformed into a lethal weapon on the outside.”
Van Schalkwyk credits Keira for her major role in helping turn around the season for the GSL 18 Elite squad, which has now gone 11-1 since the second day of the Las Vegas Classic in February and through AAU and Power League tournaments.
Van Schalkwyk said Keira’s “big smile and long blonde braids are deceptive.” “She is a fierce competitor, and she holds herself to a very high standard,” he said. “Her level of play has risen dramatically as the season has progressed. We rely heavily on her to keep us in the game, and to terminate on in-system plays.”
Keira is grateful for her parents’ financial sacrifices and constant support in her volleyball experience. “They have been my biggest cheerleaders and are so supportive,” she said. “My mom would take me to practices and my dad – who is a personal trainer – taught me how to exercise and eat properly. They are also my ‘go-tos’ to vent and have always given me great advice.”
Keira recognizes what lies ahead for her in college may be exciting, but it will not be easy. She is grateful to have seen from her sister’s adversity that challenges can be overcome and you will be stronger for them.
“My sister can’t run. I do that every day. Her life has dramatically changed and she is one strong girl. No one should go through that alone. My family is so supportive and my parents are always there, putting off so much to be there. I definitely don’t take things for granted like I used to. Family means a lot more to me.”
“Keira loves the challenge, and is constantly willing herself to do better,” Van Schalkwyk said. “I think she will continue to improve while in college. She has so much potential and will always find a way to rise to the next challenge.”
March 22, 2017
GSL Player Battles Back To The Court
By Catherine Garrett
“Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond to it” could be GSL 18 Elite defensive player Mariah Ajer’s theme song.
Mariah, the daughter of Richard and Kathy Ajer of Herriman, is back on the court after being cut from the Herriman High volleyball team just prior to her senior year. The past several months have been full of adversity, self-discovery and growth for the 18-year-old.
Mariah was a soccer and softball player whose only real volleyball experience consisted of church ball when she showed up as a sophomore to the HHS tryouts. She not only made the team, but sometimes played on the sophomore, junior varsity and varsity teams all in the same evening.
“I had a passion for volleyball which was not like any other sport I had played,” Mariah said. “I felt like I had potential in it, so I started playing volleyball year-round.”
After two club seasons and her junior year at Herriman – where she was named Most Improved Player – Mariah was being recruited by several colleges and realized she could keep on playing volleyball beyond high school.
So last summer, she attended every summer workout and came into high school tryouts with confidence in her ability and excitement for her senior season.
And then she saw the posted 2016 roster…
“I showed up that day so excited having felt like I had improved a lot and was an important part of the team,” Mariah said. “And then when I got there, I had to step away and do a double take because I honestly couldn’t believe that my name wasn’t listed.”
With the “heartbreaking” news, Mariah texted her parents who were on a cruise and they wouldn’t believe her until she sent them a picture of the roster.
Prior to the cruise, Kathy Ajer had prepared two notes for Mariah to read after tryouts, fully expecting that the “Did Not Make The Team” note would not be needed, but wanting to be prepared to support her from long-distance. Instead, Mariah read her mother’s words: “You are more than volleyball. How you react to this is going to show you are. You can take your time to grieve, but this is a time to learn who you are besides volleyball.”
“I spent time being upset and thinking, ‘This is terrible,’ and ‘I suck’ and ‘I’m not sure why I did this’ and ‘I’m done with volleyball,’” Mariah said. “It was really hard to see those college offers disappear and watch any high school games, but not playing for those few months made me realize that volleyball is important to me and even though I hated all of those hard high school workouts at the time, I saw that I would have given anything to be able to be out there and put my heart and dedication into playing again.”
“We have watched her go through all of those emotions,” Kathy Ajer said. “All along in volleyball, I have been telling her that volleyball does not define her. We really tried to help her to stop giving others the power to determine who she is and to take away her passion. She has worked through this situation in a very mature way and has risen above it.”
Mariah said that through this process she began to discover what mental toughness is. “That was a huge factor in me getting over being cut,” she said.
Just a few weeks after the disappointment of not making Herriman’s team, GSL 18 Elite coach Warren Van Schalkwyk reached out to her with an opportunity to coach a 12-13s team. She was unsure – as her emotions were still fresh – but she agreed to talk to him about it and ended up back in the gym, this time on the sidelines.
“I think that was Warren’s way of getting her back on the court,” Kathy Ajer said. “After a couple of days of coaching, she told me that she finally touched a ball. That made me really emotional, in a good way.”
“Coaching taught me that I can take control,” Mariah said. “It was different being around volleyball and not playing, but it definitely fueled my fire and made me want to play again.”
Mariah also began playing with a boys team of her peers and helping to coach them as well. “She would get out on the floor with them and the love and passion for volleyball came back,” Kathy Ajer said. “The boys were impressed at how good she was and her confidence returned and she felt validated.”
When club tryouts came around in November, Mariah decided to “give it a go and see if this is going to work for me.” So, she came to GSL again – having played on the 17s and 18s teams last year – for her “last hurrah on my own terms.”
“Mariah is a testament to all of us who love the game of volleyball,” Van Schlakwyk said. “Despite a disappointing senior year, she chose to play club – a very courageous decision. To see her blossom as an athlete has been very gratifying as a coach. I’m so proud of her and I love working with her. She is an athlete who, in my opinion, has been ‘finding her voice’ with every passing week. Mariah is naturally shy and quiet, but she is also very competitive. She has evolved into an amazing defensive player by bravely stepping out of her comfort zone and fought for and earned her place on our team.”
Her mother couldn’t be more thrilled to see her daughter back on the court. “I have loved seeing her go from saying, ‘I’m never touching a ball again,’ to watching her play purely to enjoy her passion,” Kathy Ajer said. “She is playing the best she’s ever playing this club season. She’s thinking differently and competing for something different.”
Mariah credits her parents for their support on the sidelines over the years and particularly this past year when there were no games of hers for them to attend. “My parents are a huge part of why I wanted to play again,” Mariah said. “I knew how important my matches were to them because they were always there despite being too busy to really have the time to be there. I knew they still wanted this for me. I’ve realized that other things are more important, but I also know that volleyball is important to me. If I would have made the team this year, I definitely would not have learned some of these lessons.”
“In many ways, Mariah personifies what youth sports are supposed to be all about – using athletics as a vehicle to gain confidence, build self-esteem, learning to overcome adversity and finding coping mechanisms for when things don’t always go your way,” Van Schalkwyk said. “These are amazing life lessons for our young athletes to be learning.”
Mariah plans to attend hair school and gets an associates degree in business. She is also considering an LDS mission.
But, for now, this is Mariah’s swan song, written her own way and with her own ending, and she is relishing every second she has left on the court.
March 15, 2017
Four GSL Players Heading To Same College
By Catherine Garrett
Four dreams. Four separate journeys.
For GSL 18 Elite volleyball players Brooke Anderson, Madison Garrett, Megan Gurr and Tessa Riffle, the road to college scholarships at Utah State University-Eastern in Price has been full of pivotal moments, influential coaches and inner drives and determination to bring their game to the next level.
Brooke, the daughter of Cindy and the late Jeff Anderson of Bluffdale, skipped the second grade and was solely focused on her academics until she tried out for the volleyball team as a 5’11” ninth grader.
“I was never really into sports,” Brooke said. “Even after that first year, I wasn’t very good. I was not coordinated at all. Plus, it was my first experience being on a team.”
“I assumed this would be a passing phasing in the list of many recreational sports our family has participated in over the years,” her mother Cindy Anderson said. “I was surprised and delighted to watch as she grew and progressed over the years she continued in volleyball. She truly grew to love the sport.”
Brooke played club volleyball in between her three seasons at Riverton High and feels that club is where her real improvement in the sport began to happen.
“I’m a pretty fast learner,” she said. “Club just gives you the chance to work more specifically on your position and get that one-on-one coaching.”
“Her coaches have each taken the opportunity to tell me at some point during each season how coachable Brooke is,” Cindy Anderson said. “This trait makes me more proud than anything she does on the court because to be respectful and teachable is such an important character trait.”
Brooke said her favorite part of returning to the Silverwolves program each fall was “shocking everyone” with the improvements she would make during the club season.
“Just like with anything, I like having a goal and working towards it and volleyball gave me another area to work hard in,” she said. “It has also helped me come out of my shell and not be so shy.”
Last year, while playing on Warren’s GSL 18 Elite team, the 6’1” middle blocker/right side hitter realized she could play the sport in college and has worked hard for that opportunity.
“Brooke is my most improved player,” said her coach Warren Van Schalkwyk. “She is currently playing at a very high level. She works hard at every practice, and competes every time she steps on the court. Over the course of two club seasons, I’ve watched her mature into a dominant offensive player, and has become our leading blocker.”
In the fall, Brooke decided to sign with USU-Eastern, the first school that responded to her initial inquiries.
“I’m really excited to have a new team to play with at a new level,” she said. “It’s also so rewarding to see all that work pay off.”
“I know Brooke will be a huge asset to her team next year,” Van Schalkwyk said.
Before she goes off to Price later this summer, she is enjoying playing with three teammates who will also join her on the court in college.
“It’s really cool to already have those relationships with Tessa, Maddie and Megan,” she said. “I feel like we already know how to motivate and encourage each other.”
Brooke hopes to be an anesthesiologist because of an appendix episode a couple of years ago where she learned more about the medical field she was already interested in. “I’ve always been good at math, science and problem solving, and I like to help others,” she said.
“Brooke will go far in volleyball and in life,” Cindy Anderson said. “I’m so proud of her and all she has accomplished in her sport, her education and her life so far.”
Madison, the daughter of Mike and Catherine Garrett of Herriman, has been playing on the volleyball court since the third grade and fell in love with the sport, seeing the height she already had then as a big advantage.
“I tried about every other girly activity, but this is where tall and awkward worked,” she said.
As “Maddie” continued to grow, so did her desire to keep playing volleyball. Playing on an Elite 15s team “changed everything dramatically” as she began the recruiting process with colleges and realized that the next level was in her grasp.
Along the way, she encountered all types of coaches and had her doubters, leading to her being fueled by this motto: “Thanks for the coal. Now I’ll light the fire.”
The past couple of years, a particular coach – Herriman High assistant coach Lisa (Co-J) Jensen – has proved influential to her progress. Here was someone that not only believed in her, but provided her with tools as she began having confidence in herself, arming her with mental toughness for sports and life in general.
The 18-year-old played four years on the HHS volleyball team as a 6’1” middle blocker and right side hitter. Her setting abilities were also used in the Mustang program.
“I’ve had really supportive coaches who have helped me on and off the court,” Maddie said. “I have also loved playing with and learning from my teammates.”
“It has been amazing to watch Maddie embrace volleyball and improve because of her love for the sport,” said her mother, Catherine Garrett. “It has taught her so much about working hard towards goals and fighting through adversity, among many other valuable life lessons.”
This is Maddie’s first year with Club GSL, but it has proved significant for her progression in volleyball.
“Warren has pushed me how to work harder than I’ve ever worked before,” she said. He’s taught me how to be more and be great.”
“Maddie works hard at every practice, and is always willing to do the work required to get better,” Van Schalkwyk said. “Maddie’s potential is massive. I predict that over the next few years she will develop into an almost unstoppable offensive and blocking force. Underneath her calm and happy demeanor lies a fierce competitor who can single-handedly take over and dominate a game. Her hard, flat, float serve is almost impossible to pass consistently and when she swings, she can hit amazing angles with tremendous force.”
Volleyball has taught Maddie many life skills with ‘being a leader and a teammate” among the main ones she will take to USU-E.
“It’s always been a dream to play in college and I’m so excited because it is going to be so much fun,” she said. “I also realize though that the hard work is really just starting right now.”
“We’re thrilled for Maddie to be able to play in college,” Catherine Garrett said. “As a parent, you want nothing more for your children than for them to be happy and succeed at what they love to do. Volleyball is something Maddie has always been willing to sacrifice sleep and social events for because she just loves playing and being with her teammates and coaches.”
Playing with three future college teammates this spring has given Maddie confidence in what this foursome can bring to the Price campus.
“I’m so excited to see what next year is going to be if we’re already playing this well together this season,” she said.
Maddie plans to study physical therapy in college with the goal of helping other athletes in rehabilitation efforts. She was introduced to that world with an ankle injury a few years ago and was fascinated with the healing process and also the preventative measures she could use to help avoid further injury.
Megan, the daughter of Mike and Heather Gurr of South Jordan, started playing volleyball with the Bingham Juniors program in middle school. She enjoyed the sport, but it became a passion when she hit the club volleyball scene.
“Club made me love volleyball so much more because it was a different crowd, not teammates you see every day,” she said. “I love how fast placed volleyball is and that you can be athletic and still feminine. Plus, I hate running, so this was perfect for me.”
Megan began as an outside hitter for the first few years and was able to “get out her aggression by pounding the ball, being competitive and finally finding her niche on the volleyball court,” according to her mother, Heather Gurr.
“Volleyball really helped Megan develop and taught her how some life lessons like how to work with other people and coaches and learn from their different approaches to the game, personalities and experiences,” Heather Gurr said.
A broken collarbone before her junior season left Megan deciding to put her 5’8” frame on the back row as a libero.
“It was different to get used to having the play start with me with a pass rather than end with me on a kill,” she said. “But, volleyball has taught me a lot of patience and it’s been really good.”
Last season, she began attracting attention from some colleges and realized that, while playing at the next level wasn’t in the initial plan, it now could be.
Van Schalkwyk has coached Megan for three club seasons and has “watched her transform from a little girl into a fierce and competitive athlete.”
“She is dedicated and committed to the sport,” he said. “She continues to push herself on the court and in the gym to get stronger and better. Megan consistently arrives to practice 30 minutes early to get additional reps before our official practice begins. She is one of the most talented defensive players I’ve worked with. We often run plays specifically designed to get the ball to Megan and she has been a massive contributor to our team’s success.
Having Megan on the team gives us a consistent performer who raises the level of play of everyone around her. I love working with her. She responds very well when pushed to her limits, and her level of play has improved every year.”
Megan said “something just clicked mentally” for her and her confidence in her ability grew, bringing her to signing a letter of intent with USU-E this past fall. “It’s just awesome to think that I am living every athlete’s dream of signing to play in college,” she said.
“She’s worked so hard for this and this is such a reward for her,” Heather Gurr said. “She’s very grateful for it and it helps us to pay for her college.”
Megan saw an opportunity at USU-E where she can get on the court and play so she took it. She is thrilled to be going down to Price with three friends and teammates.
“We’re all unified,” Megan said. “We know each other and are comfortable and confident in each other’s abilities.”
“I believe that she will be an immediate impact player on her college team next year,” Van Schalkwyk said.
Megan plans to major in psychotherapy. “I want to help people and talk them through the things they are going through,” she said. “But, I also want to know why they’re going through those things, and I want to help them mentally.”
Tessa, the daughter of Terrence and Kim Riffle of Saratoga Springs, spent her weekends as a young girl watching her older sister play volleyball. She decided to try it out and hasn’t looked back since in following her mother and sister’s footsteps to college in the sport.
She played a couple of club seasons in Washington state where she can pinpoint one single play as the turning point for her in volleyball. Her team was playing a Hawaiian team at a tournament in Colorado. “I was set a ‘2’ and I hit the ball straight through the middle of two other players,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘I can be really good at this game.’”
Tessa’s family relocated to Utah the summer before her freshman year. She played as a starter on the Westlake High varsity team all four years, first as a middle blocker.
“Tessa comes from a legacy of female athletes,” said her father, Terrence Riffle. “That can be intimidating or inspiring depending on the personality of each individual. The desire to blaze her own path and succeed based on her own efforts and merits is strong in Tessa. She possessed an internal drive that has helped her compete at a high level for many years.”
During her sophomore year, WHS coach Amber Hall taught her to play the outside hitter position and a switch was made.
“Amber really saw my potential and really invested in me to help me with timing and skills,” she said.
Tessa said she didn’t mind changing positions and, although she prefers playing on the outside, she just likes “being involved in the pounding of the ball.”
“Sixty-nine percent ticked off” is the mode Tessa feels she plays better in so she continually does all she can to motivate herself to be in that mindset. “My parents always get my attention before my matches and tell me, ‘Beast Mode’, and that just helps me flip that switch,” she said.
Tessa has been playing for Warren at GSL after his conversation with a fellow coach at tryouts was interrupted when she hit the ball. “I’ve spent almost 30 years in gyms all around the country, and the sound of a ball being perfectly struck has a distinct and rare sound,” Van Schalkwyk said. “I turned around and introduced myself to Tessa, and I was greeted by her big smile.”
Van Schalkwyk said Tessa’s “massive swing is matched by her wonderful personality.” She is a larger than life character, always ready to play and have fun,” he said. “And when it’s time to compete, you want Tessa on your team. She is a relentless fighter and always ready for a challenge. I’ve watched her carry our team on her shoulders to victory multiple times. She is an outstanding outside hitter, and is a dangerous offensive presence from any position when she swings.”
Tessa is excited for the opportunity to play at USU-E. “It is amazing,” she said. “When I signed my letter, I actually started crying because I couldn’t believe that this was really happening.”
“It’s fun to remember her first experience just hoping she would get the ball over the net, then how quickly she progressed to become the skilled player she is today and hoping she doesn’t hurt anybody with the power she has now,” Terrence Riffle said. “We are excited for her to continue this journey and are so glad to be a part of it.”
For now, Tessa’s getting a preview on the court of the future years alongside future teammates.
“It’s so awesome to play with Megan, Maddie and Brooke,” she said. “We know each other and this will play to our advantage.”
“I’m confident Tessa will be an outstanding college player and lead her team to many victories, as well as inspire those around her,” Van Schalkwyk said.
Tessa plans to become a doctor. “I am uber compassionate and like helping people,” she said.
Our New Public Relations Director
"Hi! I’m Catherine Garrett and I am the Public Relations Director for Club GSL. I will be writing articles about all the events going on as well as highlighting the amazing players on our teams and others within the organization.
I have been a Salt Lake-area sportswriter for the past 13 ½ years. From 2004-2015, I covered local high schools and other sports events for the Valley Journals/My City Journals. Currently, I am with the Davis Clipper and write mainly about Davis High and Bountiful High sports as well as other events in the Davis County area.
I graduated in Sports Broadcasting in 1998 from Brigham Young University where I was the color commentator for the BYU Women’s Volleyball, Men’s Volleyball and Women’s Basketball teams while also being the lead broadcaster for the BYU Women’s Gymnastics Team. While at BYU, I worked in the BYU Athletics Department from 1992-2004 and helped directly with the volleyball programs run by legendary volleyball coaches Elaine Michaelis and the late Carl McGown, along with the other long-time coaches of the basketball, cross country, golf, gymnastics, soccer, softball, swimming/diving, tennis and track teams.
I have a complete passion for sports and was involved in volleyball, basketball, softball and golf growing up. Even before my own playing days ended, I decided I was going to replace Vin Scully, the legendary voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Obviously, that didn’t exactly pan out as Scully just retired this past fall (and I am here in Utah! J), but my career goal was to be on TV and I achieved that during the 1994-95 seasons and had a blast doing it. What I have realized since marriage and motherhood became my focus was that my true love is communicating about sports and through my sports writing days since, I have been able to do that and I have loved sharing every word.
In writing for Club GSL, my real interest is to share other’s stories – because everyone has one – and they are all fascinating. Who are these amazing athletes, coaches and administrators? Stay tuned…because I’m going to introduce you to them."