JOURNAL: Growth and Change

JOURNAL%3A+Growth+and+Change

Photo by Katie Craig

Abby Gilleland has rejoined Ryan Theis on the bench after initially playing for him on the court.

“We had a strong player-coach relationship, an understanding of the game and the culture that he put in place at Ohio. When I was there and recruited, that was something I wanted to be a part of. It’s weird being on the other side of it and sitting on the bench with him now,” Gilleland says.

Gilleland first began playing volleyball in elementary school.

“I grew up with two older brothers, so sports around our household were pretty ongoing. Volleyball came around fourth or fifth grade. I went to a private school, and volleyball was introduced a little bit earlier than in the public school world,” Gilleland says.

As she continued playing in high school at Marian Central Catholic High School, Gilleland says her competitive fire grew, which is something she credits to her success.

“Any opponent put in front of me, I just worked my butt off to be better and hopefully be a great teammate,” Gilleland says.

These qualities helped her stand out to Marquette volleyball head coach Ryan Theis, who was then the head coach at Ohio University.

“Her aggressive style is pretty engaging for teammates (and) for coaches, as well as her competitiveness,” Theis says. “She refused to lose.”

Gilleland’s competitive nature allowed her to have a successful college career. She was a two-time conference player of the year, an All-American honorable mention selection and a consistent member of the All-MAC First Team. She played at Ohio from 2012-2016.

Theis says it was Gilleland’s natural leadership that stood out to him early on.

“As a first-year, I was always asking her to deal with certain things with teammates or players, classmates of hers,” Theis says. “(These were) things that I wanted her to be responsible for that I thought would help the program.”

Gilleland says she knew that coaching would always be in the cards for her after her playing career.

“People would tell me that I should be a coach growing up. It was just that feedback I would get, whether it was my dynamic or court presence or how I thought about the game,” Gilleland says. “I never really thought that it would evolve into my profession and I’d be sitting here six, seven years in as a college coach.”

UConn head coach Ellen Herman-Kimbal had Gilleland on her bench for the Huskies from 2019-2021. She sees Gilleland’s maturity and hard work as a coach.

“She was always thinking and disciplined. Combining this with her work ethic helped her gain the respect of our players as a coach,” Herman-Kimball says. “I can see that she has these qualities at Marquette, and it is exactly what you want as an assistant.

Gilleland says she has learned a lot so far in her coaching career.

“As a young coach, I was too focused on winning. And as much as I still love winning, now I can take a lot greater perspective into ‘What does the experience look like? How am I helping develop the players for later in life?” Gilleland says.

Theis says he has seen this play out with his team at Marquette this year.

“Abby knows what’s happening when the team knows what’s happening. That’s important because I’m usually the last to know, and I’m okay with that because Abby’s got a good handle on it. So on a day-to-day basis, I think she’s interconnected with them much more than I am,” Theis says.

This dynamic is similar to Theis and Gilleland’s relationship since she was a player for him at Ohio. Since then, not much has changed according to Theis.

“Her ability to handle things with maturity as a first-year in college is similar to how our relationship works now. There are things in our program that I asked for her help with that I think she’s better at dealing with than I am,” Theis says. “She also has great ideas, which was something she shared as a player. That part hasn’t changed.”

As for her goals at Marquette, she wants to become a part of the culture.

“As a coach coming in, just being able to meet and blend with a new group of young women and surround myself with them,” Gilleland says. “I want to fit into the culture of what we have and what Ryan’s built here.”

This article was written by Trevor Hilson. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @hilsontrevor.