Gina Gill jumps on chance to coach at Dunham

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Gina Gill, a former St. Michael the Archanangel volleyball player, is a first-year coach at The Dunham School. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Gina Gill, a former St. Michael the Archanangel volleyball player, is a first-year coach at The Dunham School.

After finishing her senior volleyball season and graduating from Loyola University last year, Gina Gill had no idea where life was going to take her next.

She thought about going to graduate school or finding a job with her degree in psychology. But while her playing career was over, she was not ready to leave the sport that had been a part of her life for more than 12 years.

Gill was given an opportunity in May, when her longtime mentor, Dunham Athletic Director and former volleyball coach Donna Pixley, called to tell her that the volleyball coaching position was open. It was an offer Gill quickly accepted.

“I always knew that I wanted to coach volleyball,” said Gill who takes over a Dunham team that has not had a winning season since 2010. “I have been pretty serious about coaching since my sophomore year of college. Just the feeling of helping a kid get the ball over the net just feels right and the place that I need to be.”

Despite being fresh out of college, Gill is more than qualified.

She burst onto the scene as a sophomore at Loyola when she led the Southern States Athletic Conference with 643 kills leading to an All-Conference selection.

Before that, Gill was named to the all-district team in each of her four years at St. Michael, while also picking up the district’s Most Valuable Player award twice. Her best season came as a senior as she picked up all-state honors after leading the Warriors to a state final appearance.

In the few practices she has already had with her new team, Gill has not shied away from using her past playing experiences as an example.

“Yes, I’m young, but I’m still their authority figure and coach,” she said. “I’ve played every position on the court, and I think that really helps because I have an overall understanding of the game and from every position’s perspective.”

In many sports, the most talented players do not necessarily translate well to coaching.

But for Gill, who has spent the past four years coaching various summer club teams in Louisiana, she turned a huge negative into a positive. Early in her senior season at Loyola, a torn ACL forced her to miss most of the season. Watching the games from the bench, however, helped her develop her coaching instincts.

“I got to see from a different perspective on how the game was played versus on the court,” she said. “Sometimes on the court, you get kind of zoned in, and you don’t really see everything. But when you are off the court you see every part of the game going on, so that taught me a lot.”

The first challenge Gill must face is to return the Dunham program back to prominence.

She knows it will not happen over night but is satisfied with the team that she has inherited.

“We have a good young team,” Gill said. “This year will be all about skill-building. My expectations for us is to try to go undefeated at home, make first in district and take the playoffs one round at a time.”

Another challenge comes in following Pixley, who had coached the Dunham volleyball team for the past 10 seasons.

But it does help Gill that she can rely on her mentor if needed.

“When she approached me about the job, she really explained that she would be there for me behind closed doors but not on the court,” Gill said of Pixley. “We have a really good relationship. We’ve known each other since 2008, and she is all about giving advice and helping out when she can. It’s really nice to have that.”

But while her full-time coaching career has just started, Gill dreams of eventually becoming a college coach if the right opportunity comes.

With that possibly on the horizon, she knows that a successful stint at Dunham is necessary for that goal to be realized. But even if it doesn’t, she will be content knowing she is around the sport that she loves.

“I’ve always told myself that college coaching was the route that I wanted to take because the level of play is more intense, and that’s what I enjoy,” she said. “But I’m not really putting a time frame on it. Even if it doesn’t come, I still get to coach.”