Volleyball’s Gabel proves worth for hometown crowd

By Mike Romor

Volleyball’s Malia Gabel spends most of her time cheering for her teammates in games, but last weekend the freshman defensive specialist was the one being cheered by teammates, family and friends.

Saturday’s match against Eastern Michigan was a homecoming for Gabel, a Pinckney, Mich., native who lives just outside Ypsilanti. While the match ended up providing a memorable career moment for Gabel, the entire day was unforgettable.

Gabel’s family hosted a pre-match team meal at their house, allowing the team to relax and bond before the second of back-to-back away matches. It also gave Gabel a chance to spend a day at home for the first time since the season began.

“I was looking forward to [last weekend] for the whole season,” Gabel said. “I was so excited to get to go home and see all my friends and family and my dogs, which I really missed. It was so exciting for me…. It was really good having a home-cooked meal again.”

Once the meal ended, Gabel and the rest of the Huskies headed to Eastern Michigan for a crucial battle for a coveted MAC Tournament seed.

Head coach Ray Gooden had a plan for the match. Gooden prepared to put Gabel in for just her third appearance of the season. He was happy to showcase Gabel in a match that meant so much to her.

“It was great for her to get a chance to contribute in front of her friends and family,” Gooden said. “It was great for her to have some success, and it was great to see how much she’s improved over a period of time.”

Gabel did not know she would get the opportunity until the moment presented itself.

“I didn’t plan on it, but I was kind of hoping I would get in just because my family and friends were there,” Gabel said. “It was a shock that I went in. It was great because it was the first time any of my friends had been able to see me play here.”

The player who has spent most of her season screaming for her teammates’ achievements was soon in the opposite role.

While she did not have extended time on the court, the little time she did have gave her the opportunity to contribute to an eventual victory while leaving a lasting impression on her family and friends.

She started off with a well-executed short serve that riled up her teammates. She followed with an athletic dig that made the Huskie sideline erupt. The dig was the first of her career.

“When she went in to serve — I know she was a little nervous — but she killed the serve and almost got an ace,” said freshman Jenna Radtke. “The dig she had was unreal, too. It really helped us, and it was awesome that she went in.”

Gabel said she was nervous when Gooden called on her, but once she got in the match and contributed, her nerves settled. Gabel called it a “good nervousness.”

Everything calmed down for her once she realized the amount of support her teammates gave her in the most special match of the season for her.

“I could hear everyone screaming and yelling my name after I got the serve and after I came in and got the dig,” Gabel said. “That felt awesome, knowing my team was supporting me. It makes me feel great that they really care about me and want me to go in and do well.”