A high volleyball IQ and a passion for the game has landed Gonzaga’s Chapin Gray in a prominent leadership position this season. Gray, a third-year outside hitter, has been playing volleyball since she was 5 years old under the guidance of two parents who happen to double as coaches.
“I come from a volleyball family,” Gray said. “I kind of always assumed I would play.”
Raised in Phoenix, Gray grew up playing whenever she could and began to seriously pursue playing volleyball in college when she got to high school. She played for both her high school and a local club team called Aspire and saw great success in both. However, Gray said that her club team proved to be the best environment in which she could strive for Division I.
“I was really fortunate to have really good coaches and really good teammates,” she said. “All of my teammates from my last year of club ended up playing D-I volleyball.”
Gray was incredibly successful during her club years, making it to nationals every year since she was 11 years old. That didn’t go unnoticed when it came to college recruiting. By the time Gray was a sophomore, GU had begun recruiting her.
The head coach at the time, Dave Gantt, came to one of her practices and offered her a spot on the team. By the summer after her sophomore year, she was committed.
Gray’s situation was unique for a student athlete as she was able to graduate from high school and enroll at GU a semester early. This allowed her four extra months to acclimate to college life and a higher level of play.
“That really, really helped her,” said Drew Pascua, an assistant coach for the GU volleyball team. Pascua said the most notable benefit to this was the chance to get to know the older players sooner.
“Getting to know the older girls always seems like a tough thing,” he said. “We only have two weeks of preseason before we start competing. So trying to get to know all of these people in two weeks and then trying to join them on the court can be difficult.”
Though not initially part of the recruiting process that brought Gray to GU, Pascua was impressed after watching her play.
“High IQ was one of the biggest things I noticed right away,” Pascua said. “Just the way she could take in information and apply it to the court.”
Pascua also noticed that Gray was a quiet player.
“Before, I was content with doing my work and not being super loud,” Gray said.
Now, as many of the older players have graduated and she finds herself as one of the oldest on the court, Pascua said that Gray has taken on more of a leadership role. Though different from her typical style of play, quiet and focused, he believes she is taking the position head-on.
“Being in a leadership role now is very different for me,” she said. “I’ve taken more of a vocal role where I’m not only giving feedback to other people but being enthusiastic and having energy for the team.”
Second on the team in kills with 145, Gray is certainly a credible leader on the stat sheet. Pascua attributes her success to the physical shape she has come into the season with.
“I think starting off this year was the best physical shape that Chapin has been in,” he said. “We always knew that she had the tools to be a really good offensive player, but this year she has developed her serve receive passing, as well.”
Gray agreed that her game has improved in this way.
“I think I’ve become way more physical this year,” she said. “I’ve always been surrounded by volleyball. So, I always knew the game, but it was more of me trying to play smart than overpower people. This year, I feel way stronger.”
Growing up, Gray’s favorite player was Jordan Larson, an outside hitter on the U.S. national team that has a similar build and play style to her. Now, having accomplished so much, Gray finds herself in the position of a role model, as well.
“There are little girls that come to our games and then afterwards are asking us to sign their things or tell us how much we inspire them,” Gray said. “Growing up in Phoenix, I used to go to Arizona State University games, and, like, that would be me. So it’s kind of surreal that that’s happening.”
Part of what makes it so surreal to Gray is the connection that she has formed with the rest of the team. Gray’s recruiting class was larger because of the number of seniors that graduated the year before, and Pascua believes this was beneficial when it came to their class bonding.
“They knew they had each other to lean on and they’ve stuck together,” he said. “Now that [Gray] has taken on that leadership, she is trying to bring everyone together and keep that connection tight.”
Gray uses this connection to drive her on the court.
“I am so close with the team now that it’s like, not only am I playing for myself, but I’m playing for them now, too,” she said.
Outside of volleyball, Gray does a number of things to stay balanced.
“It’s really important for everyone, in everything, to have a time in their day that they take for themselves to reflect, to meditate, whatever it is, or even just watch Netflix,” Gray said.
She also relies on friendships from back home to keep her grounded.
“I have really close friends from home still. So I call them because they’re not going to talk to me about volleyball,” Gray said. “Talking to people outside of volleyball really helps me to keep perspective and stay neutral.”
Looking forward, Gray hopes to continue to be a leader and bring the team up to where it hasn’t been in a long time: the NCAA Tournament. Pascua said he believes she is capable of becoming an All-WCC player and agrees that they are pushing to make the tournament.
“For everyone coming here on this team, our goal is to make it to the tournament,” Gray said. “We haven’t done that since 1990, and when I was recruited here that’s what I told the coaches I wanted to do.
“I feel like it’s been really good and it’s just getting better.”