The humble star chasing history

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The humble star chasing history

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By Thomas Herron, Sports Editor

When Gabrielle Eyl thinks back on her collegiate career, she attributes her mindset to a single game four years ago during her freshman year when Northeastern upset then-volleyball powerhouse James Madison. Eyl, now a senior captain, said she holds herself to such a high standard because she understands that others are looking at her to lead this team.

“As a college athlete, that was the first time I realized my attitude and my effort has a massive impact not only on my team and the game, but for me to give less than that every time I put on a jersey is an insult to my teammates and to myself as a little girl serving against my wall in my backyard,” Eyl said.

Her freshman year wasn’t the best in recent memory as NU volleyball posted a dismal record of 6-25.

But that trying season did provide her with a source of motivation to never give less than her childhood self would accept.

Coming to Northeastern was an easy decision for Eyl as she’s had roots connecting her to Boston even before she was born. Her mother attended Northeastern for night school when she was pregnant with Eyl.

She lived in the area until she was three years old when she moved to San Diego. She spent the majority of her childhood there until she moved to Boulder, Colorado for her last two years of high school.

After completing her years at Boulder High School, she chose the opportunity to return to her origins and attend Northeastern.

“When I first visited, it was Cinco de Mayo weekend, and the weather was just beautiful. I was walking through Fenway during a game and I just fell in love with the city — granted, if I had gone in January I probably would have thought of it differently,” Eyl said with a laugh.

When Eyl arrived on campus, she fulfilled the role of Northeastern volleyball’s new libero, or defensive specialist, following in the footsteps of Natalia Skiba, Northeastern volleyball’s all-time dig leader.

Four years later, Eyl is second on Northeastern’s all-time dig leaderboard, behind her predecessor Skiba.

“When I walked onto campus, the girl who has all time record — she was a stud, an absolute monster. I felt this tremendous pressure to try and be what she was,” she said. “Her expectations quite literally drove me to the ground my freshman year, until one day one of my teammates said to me on the bus ‘Why are you trying to be Skiba? You’ll never be her and you shouldn’t be.’”

Eyl said this realization is what made her the player she is. As she remembered her teammate’s words going into her second year, her focus was no longer to fill anybody’s shoes, but to focus on her own contributions and to stay in the present.

She never looked back, as her motivation to be the best player she can be earned her a number of awards, from CAA defensive specialist of the year to being named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s all-region team among a laundry list of others.

Mention of these awards prompts a laugh from Eyl, however, as she feels singling her effort out doesn’t tell the whole story.

“That makes me laugh for a variety of reasons. The defensive player wears a different color jersey, so you can attribute it all to one player,” Eyl said. “It’s awesome to look at accolades, but the reality is it is so far from the truth. My success is completely dependant on someone else on the team busting their butt to set me up and they make me look a lot better.”

One recent award though, means more to Eyl than the others. She was recently named as one of thirty finalists for the NCAA’s Senior CLASS, or “Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School,” award in volleyball. This award means so much to her because it is more than a recognition of athletic achievement.

“I doubt I’ll make it past that round, but seeing the peers I’m nominated with and to think I could be even considered amongst that group is such an honor,” she said.

Eyl remains humble in her role as captain, speaking of her status as an honor and responsibility to take a leadership role over the teammates she feels such great respect and care for.

Northeastern volleyball head coach Ken Nichols, who led the process of recruiting Eyl, admires what she brings to his program, ultimately awarding her the title of captain for her last year of eligibility.

“This job is taxing. There’s a lot of time away from family. You’re under a microscope and there’s lot of pressure on wins and losses. Kids like Gab, and Gab in particular, make it worthwhile and rewarding to get in there every day and do my job,” Nichols said.

In her spare time, she has a number of passions such as running and reading as many newspapers as possible, including The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post and The Denver Post. Her passion for news took shape in the form of a journalism minor, and formed early in middle school.

“I always read The San Diego Union Tribune and I loved reading as a kid. I joined the journalism club in middle school and I had an amazing teacher who was an opinion writer for The LA Times. She really drove home the importance of writing to me,” Eyl said. “I really love doing anything to expand my knowledge because as an athlete it’s easy to get pigeonholed into the athletic department, so I try to focus on things that make me happy and pull me out of athletics a little bit.”

Eyl had a strong senior year thus far, totalling 341 digs as Northeastern volleyball is 11-8 and 4-2 in conference play. Thus far, Eyl has a career total of 2040 digs with 10 regular season games left, and is currently on pace for 2219 career digs with an average number of 17.9 digs per match this year.

Eyl is within reach of Skiba’s record of 2382 career digs, though it seems slightly unlikely. This doesn’t concern her at all.

“Records are records regardless of if I beat her or not, they’re made to be broken and it won’t matter as much as how people remember me as a competitor and a person,” Eyl said.

Part of her decision to come to Northeastern was because of the opportunity to have a fifth year where she could be a normal student. Next year, Eyl hopes to go abroad in the fall and take classes in Boston in the spring.

“I would describe it as the most challenging and rewarding couple of years of my life where I’m able to see tangible failures and tangible successes, every week if not everyday. Everyday I wake up, I’m honored for opportunity to play with the girls that I do and to go to the school that I do,” Eyl said.


Graphic by Hannah Guarino