January 30, 2021 – By NJP

We have all had to put up with and manage a ton of change over these past 10 months with the pandemic. One New Jersey volleyball player has been managing extreme change over the past two years and has done just a phenomenal job of advancing her goals at the same time.

Gabrielle Barber, a junior volleyball player from Tribeca in New York City, transferred to Dwight Englewood in Bergen County for her sophomore year. She “reverse” commutes from NYC to NJ for school and also switched her volleyball club this season to DIGS. Gaby is an outstanding volleyball player, especially for her age group, and expectations were running high on what she could bring to the DE program. Let’s just say, despite all of the massive changes in her life, she did not disappoint.

Gaby came on to the NJ high school volleyball scene and became an impact first year player for the Bulldogs. The sophomore immediately gelled with senior star outside Audrey Leak, who has now moved on to Yale University, and the result was magical. Leak tallied 381 kills and Gaby had 541 assists as both players took home NJIC first team honors.

The Bulldogs ran up a 20-7 record, knocked off Hudson Catholic twice during the season, and eventually got taken down by Union Catholic in the non-public sectional semi-final.

In the second match of the season, DE went up against Hudson Catholic who ended up finishing 29-8 and #11 in the NJP year-end ranking. It was an omen clearly communicated by Gaby who posted 30 assists in the straight set win. The sophomore staked her claim as a player to be reckoned with in NJ and has not looked back.

Gaby is a complete player. She is super smart, has amazing instincts on the floor, and butter hands. She has a crazy good serve and led DE with 63 aces on the season. She finished third in NJ in serve rating per NJP’s proprietary formula. And 4th in NJ per NJP’s setter rating. And that is not by class, it reflects all players in the state.

Barber is a recruiter’s dream. Solid academics, stellar accomplishments on the volleyball court, and still a very high ceiling on her potential as an athlete as she continues to get better every season. It’s going to be a lethal combination this spring as Gaby combines with senior Isabella Brown on the attack for the Bulldogs. It will be fun to watch.

Here is our interview with Ms. Barber…

Hi Gaby…Tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Gabrielle Barber and I’m a junior at Dwight-Englewood, graduating in 2022.  This is my second year at DE; I transferred as a sophomore last year. I’m 5’7″ and play for DIGS 17 Red. My primary position is setter, but this year I have been playing as a DS as well. I live in Manhattan with my parents, my two brothers Jamie (15) and Tommy (13), and our new chocolate Labrador Retriever, Minty. My brothers and I were born and raised in NYC and have grown up in the same neighborhood, in the same apartment, so Tribeca is very much home for us.

The Barbers

How long have you played volleyball and what inspired you to take up volleyball initially?

This is my seventh year playing volleyball and sixth year playing club. I started playing volleyball in middle school on my mom’s suggestion. She thought it would be a great way to meet people at a new school and sports have always been encouraged by both my parents. I went to the first try-out having never played and didn’t know any of the rules. Luckily, I made the team and we made it to the city playoffs for the first time in my middle school’s history. I was hooked!

You had an awesome sophomore campaign at Dwight Englewood accumulating 541 assists, 103 digs, and a team leading 63 aces. What are your goals for the upcoming season and the remainder of your high school career?

It’s going to be a really different kind of season, but it will be good to be a team again. I am so grateful that we get to play! This past year has taught me that you can’t always prepare for what will happen, but you can still prepare by being flexible, appreciative, and taking every opportunity to move forward. Coach Tyler has always encouraged us to define success and set goals based upon improvement and hard work. I think our season will be framed by:

  • Did we come together as a team, incorporating our new teammates and creating a foundation for the fall 2021 season?
  • Did we give our seniors a competitive and fun season for their last year at DE?
  • Did our work on and off the court show that we were still committed to our teammates and to having a great season?
  • Did the way we play reflect how happy we are to come together as a team and show appreciation for everyone who made this season possible in the most difficult of circumstances?

Personally, I’d love to break the DE record for career assists and to work on my blocking. At school I mainly work on being a strong offensive player, but at DIGS I have the opportunity to work on my defense. My goal is to continue growing as an all-around player and hone my court awareness not just as a setter, but as a passer as well. 

Bulldogs, 12-3, head to BC Jamboree!

You return 10 varsity players from last year’s team but one of the graduating seniors from last year was Audrey Leak whose kills made up two-thirds of your assists. How well do you think the Bulldogs will fare this season and who might be stepping up on the attack to fill Audrey’s shoes? 

Our team will miss all of last year’s graduating seniors – Alexi, Angie, Audrey, and Ellie. Audrey definitely left big shoes to fill. She was our captain and a true leader of our team. Audrey is an amazing player and I am excited to see all she accomplishes at Yale. 

DE just held a virtual volleyball meeting and it looks like a lot of girls will be trying out for the team, so that’s exciting! I think this season is going to be about maximizing the opportunity – we’ll only have two weeks to train in-person before the first of our twelve matches. We’ll have to make the most of every minute together and quickly incorporate our new players. It will be an opportunity for all of us to step-up and for me to move the ball around more. One of the things I’m most looking forward to is setting Isabella Brown for her senior year. She also plays for DIGS and I get to see her at practice. We already have a great connection on the court and I am excited to see where this year takes us! We also have some rising JV players, adding to our defense and service. We don’t know our entire roster yet, so you never know who is going to step up. 

NJP considers you one of the best players in NJ high school volleyball. Do you plan to play volleyball in college and if so, which college programs are you considering?

Thank you so much! I didn’t know what to expect when I started playing for DE, but I love how seriously high school sports are taken and followed in New Jersey. There are so many formidable players on the courts and it’s made our games so competitive and fun. I do hope to play volleyball in college, and I’ve been speaking to coaches at schools that strike a great balance between top-notch academics and playing volleyball at the next level. I’m focused on DIV III programs, anywhere in the country, and am looking forward to campus visits as soon as possible. I really want to find a school where I not only fit in, but where I feel I belong.

Tell us about your high school coach at DE, Tyler Singh? 

Coach Tyler, Coach Dana, and my teammates went out of their way to welcome me on the team and made my transition to DE easy. They put a lot of trust in me and kept me on the court for a 5-1 and gave me all the support I needed to be a successful part of the team.

Coach Tyler is amazing because she sees potential in you that you might not even know you have. She gives honest feedback and we trust her because she works overtime to make sure we are the best players we can be as well as the best version of ourselves. She invests a lot in her players and sets a high standard for all. Coach Tyler stresses going back to basics and fine-tuning fundamentals. She makes practice both fun and serious, creating a hardworking environment and providing a space for us to forget about the outside world. She used the book Wooden by Coach John Wooden to inspire us to be better players and people and she always emphasizes the importance of team dynamics because you can’t win by being a bunch of individuals.

Tell us about your club experience and your Club Coach Annie DeLoid at Digs?

This is my first year at DIGS and I am so happy that I tried out for the club! Three girls on my DE team played for DIGS and spoke very highly of the club. They encouraged me to try out and I thought it would be great to join a team where I could play with the same girls for my junior and senior years. It’s been so much fun getting to know my new teammates and they made a potentially awkward, masked intro to the team really easy. Coach Annie and Coach Alyssa are great and bring a collegiate coaching point of view to the court. They have definitely reinforced my desire to play in college. They set the tone for the team and a high bar for performance, but give us the room to grow into the players we want to be.  They also are great communicators, which I really appreciate because the feedback supports my desire to get better.

Is there a teacher or coach who really helped you along the way?

Gaby with Coach Traci Edwards and Ass’t Coach Utpal Chand

I feel really fortunate to have had a lot of good teachers and coaches. I’ve never had a teacher or coach who didn’t give me something, whether it’s great advice, constructive criticism, or helping me figure out what I want or don’t want.

I have had one coach who has worked with me one-on-one for almost five years now. Coach Traci Edwards has helped me prepare for the last four seasons. She’s really tough on me in the best possible way and I know she’s in my corner. I can always count on her for a thousand reps and the type of honesty you need to get better. She pushes me to always go the extra mile even when I’m out of breath and about to collapse. She has taught me that through hard work and dedication, a goal can always be met if you have the right mindset. 

At school, I have Dr. Arika Easley-Houser, who has been my history teacher for the last two years. She was new at DE the same year I was, so it was nice to get our bearings together. This year I was in her “Conspiracy Theories” class, which was really timely. Her classes are never boring and she genuinely cares about her students, both in the classroom and outside of it. Dr. Houser is a teacher you can talk to about anything and I can’t count the number of times I have visited her office just to chat or get advice.

How influential have your Parents been on your academic and volleyball careers?

Gaby’s brother Tommy and her grandparents, Mama & Jiji

In almost seven years of playing, I think there have only been a handful of games when someone in my family didn’t show up, no matter where I’m playing. My parents, brother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins – I don’t have a very big family, but someone is always in the bleachers cheering my team and me on, usually loudly. My grandparents have even flown overnight from San Diego to surprise me at a tournament. I’m pretty sure I’ll be taking that support network to college if I’m fortunate enough to play for my school.

The same support goes for my academics. My parents are pretty vocal when it comes to school and they always expect my best. I think they are the reason I prefer tough coaches! They want me to be my fiercest competition, so I am motivated to keep getting better. They are really big on not getting comfortable and trying new things so I can figure out my own path. They recognize that I’m a hands-on learner and believe experience is the best teacher. They are incredibly supportive and always help me to bridge those moments when I’m working on something new or I’m having a moment of self-doubt.

How are you and your family dealing with the current world situation with COVID-19? 

COVID has been tough on everyone and incredibly difficult for so many. I’ve been trying to focus on what my family and I do have. The extra family time from the lockdowns and quarantines has given us a lot of time to do things that we might not otherwise have time for. We’ve been really self-sufficient too, and started multiple projects around our apartment. One of our biggest projects was redecorating my bedroom and then my brothers’. We did everything ourselves – sanding, painting, caulking, and sewing – and gave our rooms an entire makeover.

Under normal circumstances, our family isn’t home at the same time very often. We are all coming and going and it’s difficult to eat dinner with everyone. Now spending so much time at home has brought us closer. We are very fortunate to have each other and have made the best out of a tough situation. I miss my grandparents and more social activities with my friends, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel and I’m grateful that we have been able to stay healthy.

What is your favorite volleyball story?

I should probably say my favorite volleyball story was going to Nationals, which was awesome, but my favorite story was actually a non-volleyball, volleyball moment. My second year of club, I was still part of a competitive dance team and we had a performance at Madison Square Garden. I was standing at the edge of the basketball court, ready to go on, when I heard people screaming my name. I looked up to the stands and saw my entire volleyball team in the aisle of one of the sections. It was a total surprise and something I’ll never forget. I remember bursting into tears just as I was about to be projected onto the jumbotron. It meant so much for my team to not only support me on the volleyball court, but courtside no matter what I was doing. On every team that I have been on, we have felt like family.

Living in NY, what is the reverse commute like, going to school in NJ?

A lot of my life is now in New Jersey. It is definitely more of a time commitment – about fifty minutes to school and an hour and fifteen to club – but it’s totally worth it because I love my school and DIGS. It makes me a better time manager and I have to be prepared for anything because I can’t just run home to get something at the last minute. I’m also really appreciative for the time commitment that my family has made on my behalf. My dad takes four hours out of his day to take me to practice at least three times a week. He stays in New Jersey and works on his laptop because by the time he got back home, he would have to turn right back around to pick me up. He works a lot, so I am very appreciative of how much time he spends just shuttling me around for games and practices. Spending most of my time in a different state does not just affect my life, but my entire family’s. I am grateful for their support and how much they invest in me so I can do what I love and have the best opportunities possible.

Gaby #7 with the 2019 Dwight Englewood Bulldogs

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