Jolly a humble leader in Sacred Heart’s title hopes

Gabrielle Jolly entered Sacred Heart Cathedral three years ago with a modest goal of making the freshman girls’ volleyball team.

That lasted all of about two months.

Now a junior, the 5-foot-10 middle hitter was called up to the varsity early in her first year at the Cathedral Hill school and has stood in the center of the Irish’s success ever since. Sacred Heart (30-9) has already won this year’s Central Coast Section championship and could capture its first NorCal title since 2004 when it faces St. Mary’s of Stockton at Chavez High in Stockton in today’s 7 p.m. Division III final.

“In that first year, all I really wanted to do was make the freshman team,” Jolly said. “But then I got called up and the spark just went off. I knew I could do this.”

Jolly has since demonstrated that fact to the West Catholic Athletic League, leading the conference this season in total kills (75) and ranking in the top five in blocks (19). She had 14 kills and six blocks in Sacred Heart’s sweep of Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland in the NorCal semifinal and her combination of height, athleticism, jumping prowess and the ability to powerfully put away points make her a certain Division I college prospect according to fifth-year Irish coach Margi Beima.

“She’s a very, very humble kid, but she can really dominate at the net when she’s on,” Beima said. “She might not be the biggest middle, but she has great hands and great skills all over the court. And even though she’s a superstar, she’s all about the team.”

And after admittedly staying in the background as a freshman, Jolly has slowly emerged alongside hitter Nicole Yap to become statistical and emotional leaders on a youthful Sacred Heart team. Despite starting a freshman setter (Sidney Chuckuntarod) and two sophomores, the Irish have managed to be at their best at the most important times. Sacred Heart has won 12 of its last 13 matches entering tonight’s final against the top-seeded Rams (28-7), with only two of those requiring even a fourth game.

The No. 2 Irish swept both Union Mine of El Dorado and Bishop O’Dowd on their way to the final and will seek a measure of revenge tonight against a St. Mary’s team that knocked them out in the first round of last year’s NorCal tournament.

“We don’t look at it as there being any pressure on us — we play because we love the game,” Jolly said. “And I don’t think any of us are ready for our season to end.”

melliser@examiner.com

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