Awkward. Clumsy. Uncoordinated.
These are not words usually associated with Division I athletes, especially one who ranks third in the Pac-12 for kills and leads the Cal volleyball team with a .327 hitting percentage.
And yet these exact words describe senior Adrienne Gehan’s childhood.
When she first tried to play sports at the age of 8, she couldn’t even bounce a tennis ball and catch it in her hand. Adrienne was the artistic child, the one who could sit for hours with paper and colored pencils and be perfectly fine. This love for art is something she attributes to her summers spent in Europe with her family. Even today, she doesn’t really care for sports.
“I love volleyball, but I couldn’t sit here and tell you I’m super into sports,” she said. “Both my siblings make fun of me — we’ll get tickets to a game, and they won’t let me go. They’re like, ‘You’re not getting the tickets. You just sit and watch the people in the stands.’”
Because of her artistic personality, Adrienne’s volleyball journey doesn’t start with natural athleticism or “answering the call.” Her story starts with her older sister.
Adrienne’s family is no stranger to the world of college sports. Adrienne’s older sister, Lindsay, played volleyball for the University of Georgia, and her dad was an All-American swimmer at USC. In addition, her younger brother plays varsity basketball, and her mom used to play field hockey.
“Adrienne was the one standing on the other side of the field staring at the flowers while everybody else was playing soccer,” said her mother, Caroline. “And then she started growing. She was at that point where she wanted to do everything her older sister did.”
When Adrienne joined her sister in middle school, her family essentially decided she was more of the artistic type than athletic type. Forced to pick a sport for PE, Adrienne’s sister pursued field hockey — that is, until the volleyball coach laid eyes on her height.
Episcopal School head coach Laura Gomez saw Adrienne’s sister in the hallway, tapped her on the shoulder and told her to report to the gym instead of the field. With no prior knowledge of the game, Lindsay’s natural athleticism took over, and she soon came to love the game. Naturally, Adrienne wanted to be just like her older sister and decided to give it a shot.
And thus began Adrienne’s journey to Cal volleyball.
Coming in at a staggering 6-foot-2 as a freshman in high school, Adrienne decided to try out for the volleyball team. She certainly had no plans of playing college volleyball — it wasn’t even on her radar until her sophomore year.
At that point, Adrienne decided she was tired of sitting on the bench. She began working every day after school with her coach, spending hours in the gym. She grew into her body and developed the hand-eye coordination she lacked as a child. Her calm demeanor remained, but she grew to become a fierce competitor as well.
“She is very laid back and calm, but when she steps on that court, she definitely goes to work,” Gomez said. “People love to play for her, which is a great quality to have as a captain and a leader on the court. Your teammates want to do well because you’re such a great person and leader.”
Adrienne improved at such a rapid rate that she quickly became the team leader and went on to break school records, eventually winning the all-area player of the year award. She was nominated and picked as a member of the 2009 AVCA Under Armour High School All-American Team.
“Slowly, she started getting more chances, and soon, she got a call to try out for USA volleyball,” Caroline said. “We said, ‘Wait, you’ve got the wrong child. This is our Adrienne.’”
Adrienne’s accomplishments eventually led to an invitation by Cal head coach Rich Feller to tour the school. After her first visit, she knew it was the school for her. True to her decisive nature, she committed to Cal at the age of 16.
As the only senior who has played on the team for four consecutive years, Adrienne is a natural leader of the team. Her personality on the court mirrors how she is off of it: someone who remains calm in any situation. This is a new type of captain for the Bears, who have had a fiery and confrontational style of leadership in past years — but that doesn’t mean it’s any less effective. It helps the team to know their leader will not lose her head after a bad play or an error.
“People see this calm demeanor on the court — sometimes people mistake that as she doesn’t care,” Caroline said. “She cares a lot. She does not like losing. But her thing is, it’s done, it’s over — let’s learn from it.”
Adrienne’s personality not only allows her to keep her cool on the court, but it also makes her a natural-born leader. Her ability to think rationally in high-intensity game situations helps keep the team from dwelling on the negatives.
“She’s probably the best co-captain you could find just because of her calm and momlike personality traits,” said Michelle Neumayr, co-captain of the Bears. “People are always so surprised of how much of a beast she is on the court because of her really nice demeanor.”
But Adrienne admits that sometimes, she can be too calm, which affects her negatively. Once in a while, she will come out and play flat as a result, something she has been working on all four years at Cal.
“I’ve had to kind of work through that as a leader,” she said. “It’s a hard balance to maintain my natural demeanor of just letting things go but, at the same time, being able to perform at a peak zone. I feel like I’m my best player when I can stay calm.”
After graduation, Adrienne hopes to find an internship position at a museum. She is double majoring in art history and history and is looking to pursue business school so that one day she can achieve her ultimate dream, one she’s had since the age of 8: being a museum director.
“I love the peace and quiet of a museum,” Adrienne said. “It’s just so perfect. No mess, no clutter — just the walls and the art. I love it.”
But for now, Adrienne is looking forward to the rest of the season. With conference play in full swing, she has plenty of time to focus on her career after the season is over.
“I love volleyball, and I’m really going to miss the competitive atmosphere,” she said. “Even though I’m calm, I want to be good. I want the team to be good — I want to be good.”
Alicia Fong covers volleyball. Contact her at [email protected].