August 25, 2021 – By NJP (Some photos courtesy of Oscar Lino-Montes)

We all know how much volleyball is a team sport. It relies on all of its players, starters and bench players, to have specific roles that combine into a synergistic and collaborative effort to produce positive results. There are however some dominant game changers who can drive success, especially when teamed with a solid all-around team.

It was only a few years ago when Mount Olive not only had a group with solid talent, but it had a star attacker in Annie Karle. Before that, Annie’s sister, Ally, was the dominant force. Both broke records for kills in a season at the time with Ally smashing 994 in her three-year career, and then Annie busting that record wide open by posting 1,344. Many wins came with those stats and during the period 2016-2018, the Marauders went 52-6 and had deep state tournament runs.

This year’s team will be a bit different. The Marauders had a difficult season in the Spring yielding just a 5-11 record in one of the toughest divisions in NJ Girls’ volleyball. It was a young team in a rebuild mode in the Spring but will evolve into a senior-heavy talented group that could re-emerge as a major contender this Fall.

Gabby Forero will be one of the talented seniors driving the Marauders success this Fall. She has solid club experience playing for the Allegro 17 National Red club team last year. Many of her teammates also have strong club experience at either Allegro VBC or Xtreme VBC. Gabby was a leader this Spring and brought versatility and skill to the outside hitter role. She slammed 77 kills and lifted 106 digs. She also had 16 aces from the service line.

Forero is perfectly positioned for a breakout season. With a strong cast at all starting positions, it should be a great new dynamic building in Mount Olive. Gabby has a strong VBIQ and super strong on the defensive side and back row. Her attack is equally as strong, but she thrives in the defensive scheme. Teams that win at the high school level always have fundamentally sound defense and Gabby will be a cornerstone here along with Isabella Lino-Montes and Lauren Bennett.

Photo courtesy of Craig Hanlon Photography

Remembering the Marauders are playing in the NJAC-American, where there are three top teams in the NJP preseason Top 20 in Mendham, Roxbury, and Sparta, we know it will not be easy. But Mt. Olive will be a team to watch and will be competitive with the top 3 as well as many other teams considered North Jersey elite. With Gabby leading the way in her senior and final campaign.

Here is our interview with Ms. Forero…

Hi Gabby? Thanks for joining the NJP player interview club. Tell us a bit about yourself?

Hi, I’m Gabriela Forero and I’m going to be a Senior at Mount Olive High school this fall. I live In Mount Olive, New Jersey and will be graduating spring of 2022. I live with my Mom, Dad, and Sister who all moved to the United States in 2004 from Colombia, just before I was born. 

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

I have played volleyball since the fifth grade, so this year I will be going into my eighth year of playing volleyball. What originally inspired me to play was two of my best friends asking me to join our local rec team with them. These two friends are Ava Padwelka and Isabella Lino-Montes who still play with me today on the Mount Olive Varsity team. While these two friends initially inspired me to join, I’m not sure I would have taken the steps to play on a higher level if it wasn’t for my personal competition with my sister. Being only a year younger than her I have spent my life being compared to her in every aspect, at this time she was already playing on a travel soccer team and my goal was to get to the same level as her in volleyball. This healthy competition between us always pushed me to try harder and to be my best but in the end my biggest motivator now is the love I have for the sport and the pure fun I have while playing. 

What are your metrics/details? Height, vertical, position, club team, etc. What is your favorite position to play?

I am 5’5 and I am an outside hitter. I play for Allegro Volleyball Club in Denville NJ and my favorite spot on the court to play in is middle back. I love playing in the back row in general because I feel that playing there, I have learned how to communicate with my teammates and connect with them in a stronger way than I do when anywhere else on court. It has also taught me to relax and clear my mind; to not let my mistakes get to my head, a skill I have found very useful in all aspects of life. 

Tell us about your Marauder teammates. Who do you expect to be this year’s standout players in the Fall?

From my first year on the Marauder Volleyball team, I immediately found everyone incredibly welcoming and kind and over the years I’m glad to say that I feel everyone has only grown closer together. A person I feel will definitely be a standout player this fall is Sienna Volpe with her incredible contagious energy on and off the court at all times she helps everyone to play their best. She is always giving it her best and has an insane amount of strength in all of her kills. Two other players who are also absolutely key to our team are two of our setters Ava Padwelka and Adriana Szurnicki. They are always communicating with everyone and making sure everything on court is working as it should be. As for the defensive side of things I think we will have a solid back row with both Lauren Bennett and Isabella Lino-Montes who are both great consistent players whom I can always rely upon to communicate with me clearly and get the ball. With the team having thirteen seniors on it this year I feel I should also mention Sarah Shortino A junior who will continue the Mount Olive legacy next year. She is incredibly hard working and there isn’t an obstacle you could put in her way to stop her from getting to the ball before it drops. With her incredible reflexes and accuracy, she is unstoppable. Overall I find every girl on the team this year is a great asset and I’m happy to have the opportunity to play with such a talented group of girls.

NJP considers you as one of the top players in the state. Do you plan on playing in college? If so, which ones are you looking at? What do you plan to study in college or what is your career path?

As much as I love volleyball, I have made the decision to not play it in college. When I get to college I want to focus on school and my education as much as possible. I am planning on majoring in industrial engineering in college.

You had such a great junior season during the spring with 77 kills and 16 aces, while tallying 106 digs. What are your goals for your senior season?

My goals for my Senior season are to become as consistent as possible with my serves and to win counties. 

Tell us about your head coach Tom Reszka?

Coach Reszka is a great coach and always finds new, creative ways to motivate the team during tough games with his iconic motivational speeches. He always brings a sense of humor to practices and keeps the energy high in the gym. He pays a lot of attention to all of the small details that can help each player improve in their own way. Coach Reszka has definitely helped me improve greatly over the years. 

NJP Projects Mount Olive to be in the Top 40 in their preseason analysis. Where do you see the team finishing in the upcoming season in the NJAC and overall?

I’m not sure how we will end up ranked in the end but with the players we have this year I am confident this will be a successful season for us. 

The NJAC is one of the dominant conferences in the NJ High School volleyball landscape. Which player was the toughest opponent you have faced in your career?

There are so many great players I have come across throughout these past few years so I’m not sure I would be able to single out just one player, but I do feel that our toughest competition right now is the Roxbury team. I have a large amount of respect for them and I’m sure the games against them will continue to be competitive and a fun challenge. 

What mental tool do you use under pressure?

The mental tool I use the most in under pressure situations is to block out how everyone else around me is playing and focusing on just doing my own personal best. I feel that one of the things that really affects a game is the whole team’s attitude and when one player’s energy gets low, it can really affect everyone else and their energy as well. I try my best to not let my mentality get affected by anything. If a teammate is having a hard time on any given day, I always find that getting mad at them is useless and it will only lead to me playing worse. The only helpful way of dealing with a situation like this is making sure they know that no one is upset at them for it and that it happens to everyone. I feel that doing this helps stop any aggression or agitation on the court and gets the game back on track. 

What are your other hobbies or interests?

If there is one thing I love doing, it is picking up small hobbies to fill my time. I will spend full days teaching myself how to do something on YouTube. Some things I’ve taught myself include Morse code, sewing, embroidery, guitar playing, and archery.

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