The oldest players on this season’s Franklin Community High School’s volleyball roster trail their head coach by only seven graduating classes.
Representing the school’s class of 2008 is Travis Gabehart, who in less than two months will witness his first match leading the program at his alma mater.
Gabehart, 24, succeeds Chris Due, who left after four seasons to become volleyball coach at Cardinal Ritter High School in Indianapolis.
Gabehart was Due’s assistant coach in 2013 while the Grizzly Cubs posted a 26-8 record.
“We just had a great working relationship between us. We got along really well. Just coming from a player to a coach is not always the easiest transition, but Chris really helped me along the way and taught me a lot of new things,” Gabehart said.
It’s not yesterday the 6-foot-4 Gabehart was delivering right-handed spikes as an outside hitter for the men’s volleyball program at Clarke University, an NAIA school in Dubuque, Iowa.
But it’s close.
Tenth all-time in Crusaders history with 1,852 attack attempts and No. 9 in kills per set (2.79), Gabehart has been known to insert himself into the lineup during Franklin practices.
Coaching, he said, requires a much greater range of volleyball knowledge.
“From playing you know your position, and some things just come natural. As a coach you’ve got to know it all. You’ve got to show them how to do different things that typically just came natural to me.
It can be kind of tough at times,” he said.
“I really enjoyed coaching with Chris last fall and decided I wanted to move toward the girls side of volleyball. I started coaching club in Plainfield, and everything just kind of fell into place.”
There were times Franklin’s returning players weren’t so sure that would happen.
“At first I was shocked (Due) was leaving. What scared us initially is we were afraid it wasn’t going to be Travis as our coach,” said senior outside hitter Jess Admire, the Daily Journal’s Player of the Year in 2012 and 2013.
“We kind of figured it would be him, but there were some days we were like, ‘What the heck? We haven’t heard anything.’ Travis is mature for his age and has the capability to connect with us because of his age. He talks to us, not down to us.”
The 5-10 Admire with 1,130 kill attempts last season exceeded more than one-third of the Cubs’ sum (3,001). Add junior Morgan Hash, a 6-2 middle blocker, and 5-8 senior outside hitter Lexi Hash and Franklin again appears formidable along the net.
“This year we have a little bit more focus on conditioning to have the girls ready to play those big five-set matches. We’ll try to get a little bit quicker this year and run a little bit faster offense and get more people involved,” Gabehart said.
“Jess was obviously our big gun, but we do have some other great players, as well, who can complement her. We’ll try to take a little bit of pressure off her and kind of move the ball around some.”
Gabehart toward the end of his time as a college student-athlete didn’t make returning to Franklin a priority.
And yet fate delivered him back to the hallways he spent only his senior year walking as both a coach and a history teacher.
“Everything just kind of fell into place really quick. I was out in Iowa for four-and-a-half years at school and didn’t really plan on coming back to Franklin specifically. I kind of liked being away from home and doing my own thing,” Gabehart said.
“But I got a job at the middle school right away for two semesters. Then I came up here this past January, and then Chris resigned, and everything just kind of opened up on the girls side of things.”
Due’s impact within Franklin volleyball from 2010-2013 can’t be overlooked. The Grizzly Cubs over his final three seasons produced a record of 73-29.
“Chris really built this program from where it was when he got here to when he left, especially with encouraging girls to play club volleyball and playing year around. I’m walking into a very good position with great players already and a lot of good ones coming from middle school,” Gabehart said.
“I guess there was sort of a plan to always coach volleyball and teach, but not necessarily at Franklin. But it’s been great being here, and I enjoy the opportunity to stay around the Franklin area.”