COLLEGE CHECK-IN: Gibson hoping for successful senior year at Wright State

La Salle-Peru graduate Taylor Gibson (No. 5) celebrates with her Wright State University teammates during a match last season. Gibson is entering her senior year after helping the Raiders to their first winning record since 2003 last season.

Photo Courtesy Wright State Athletics/Joe Craven

Taylor Gibson’s life is about to get hectic again.

The La Salle-Peru graduate is back in Dayton, Ohio preparing for her senior season with the Wright State University volleyball team.

That means multiple practices per day during preseason, and once the school year starts there’s matches, practices, weights, internships and of course, school work.

“It’s been a struggle, but it’s also been very amazing,” Gibson said about being a Division I athlete. “I don’t take for granted how amazing it is that I got to go to a DI school to play sports and get my academics for free. It’s not easy, but you get through.”

Gibson has more than gotten through.

She’s excelled on the court and in the classroom at Wright State.

Last season, Gibson tied for second on the team in aces (23), was fifth on the team in kills (141) and blocks (30) and was seventh on the team in digs (112) as she helped the Raiders to a 15-14 record — the program’s first winning record since 2003 — and their first Horizon League Tournament berth in a decade.

“I think it was just our culture change,” Gibson said about the team’s success. “We got new players and a new coach (Allie Matters) and I think she really changed the culture. We all trusted each other and knew what needed to be done to reach our goals.

“I was a three-rotation outside. I thought I did really well. I was happy that I got time.”

Gibson also earned the Horizon League Athletic Academic Award for having a GPA over 3.0 for the third time in her career.

“I think there are stereotypes that come with being an athlete — ‘Oh look, they’re just jocks,’ or ‘They’re just here to play ball’,” Matters said. “In volleyball there are not a lot of options after graduation. I’m constantly reminding my athletes that this is all fine and good but it’s really not about volleyball. There is such a bigger picture. Taylor has always been super serious about her academics. I think it’s going to pay off for her. She’s had a great career here. She’s going to have a great senior year. She’s always been a student-athlete I don’t have to worry about. Taylor makes my job a lot easier.”

Gibson spent the summer in the Illinois Valley preparing for her final season with the Raiders.

She’d lift three days per week — Mondays were squads, Wednesdays were bench and Fridays were deadlift — and on Tuesdays and Thursdays she either ran a couple miles or did the sprint workouts given to her by Wright State’s strength and conditioning coach.

When she wasn’t working out, Gibson worked at St. Margaret’s Hospital cleaning patient rooms as an environmental services aide.

Gibson hopes her summer work pays off with a successful season for her and the team.

“After last season was so successful, I hope this year instead of just making the tournament, we can win the tournament and have more conference wins,” Gibson said. “We finally had a winning record. I hope it goes even further than just being over .500.”

Matters expects Gibson to play a key role for the Raiders this season.

“I have four freshmen coming in and a transfer coming in,” Matters said. “Last year, we had a lot of injuries. We didn’t have a lot of depth. This year we’re going to have more depth. I think it’s hard as a senior when all these freshmen are coming in and they’re fresh and they’re young. Taylor is a really, really strong hitter. She has a heavy arm and she’s smart.

“I think physically it’s going to be really competitive and whoever puts up better numbers is going to start, but I think Taylor’s experience is going to elevate her above the underclassmen.”

Matters said she wishes she would have had the opportunity to coach Gibson for more than just two seasons.

“When I interviewed for the job, I met a group of players and Taylor sat right next to me,” Matters said. “I remember the day very clearly for obvious reasons. As soon as I accepted the position, Taylor was an athlete I connected with immediately. She has very similar energy and passion that I do. I love when my athletes celebrate and are wild and crazy and excited. Taylor’s energy has always been contagious.

“She’s meant a lot to the program. I’ve loved coaching her. I wish it wasn’t for such a short period of time. Taylor is a great advocate for Wright State University and our athletic department. I’m so excited to watch her compete and send her off into the real world after the season.”

Gibson is studying sports science and plans to attend occupational therapy school after graduation.

“It’s really setting in that I’m going to be a senior and I’m going to be gone,” Gibson said.

Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at sports@newstrib.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.

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