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A lot of high school athletes compete in four sports on a yearly basis, but few have the ability to succeed at all four in their varsity careers.
Gabi French is the exception to the rule as a stand out for Red Oak in volleyball, basketball, track and softball for all four years of high school, or five if you count her pre-freshman run in softball.
“I loved it and I loved all my teammates every single year,” French said of her Red Oak career. “Accomplishing some of my goals, it's really helped me out in taking the next step to college volleyball. I've really enjoyed it, especially my teammates.”
French is the Red Oak Express 2011-2012 Female Athlete of the Year. During her career, she has earned 17 letter awards in the four sports she’s competed, in addition to numerous varsity conference, district and state honors in volleyball, softball and basketball.
“It showed my hard work and that I'm dedicated to the sport that I'm in at the time,” French said. “I'm not going to give up. I'm always trying to be the best that I can be.”
Red Oak Head Volleyball Coach Angela Montgomery said French is the type of athlete who always pushes herself knowing there’s always more to achieve.
“I think she's someone who has been dedicated to herself, to her sports, not just volleyball, but everything she does,” Montgomery said. “She’s the type of athlete that doesn't know the meaning of the word offseason.”
Montgomery first met French when she was an assistant and when French was an incoming freshman. Montgomery was struck by French’s personality and her ability to make people smile.
“She's been somebody that has an infectious personality,” Montgomery said. “You want to be everything you can be to help her out. I think I'll miss above all, her personality.”
Montgomery was also struck by French’s ability on the volleyball court.
“I just remember thinking, oh my gosh, this girl is only a freshman,” she said about her initial impression of French.
With success in basketball, softball and track, French will best be remembered for her efforts in volleyball.
French jumped into the fray right away for Red Oak with 160 kills and 172 digs her freshmen season. French was an honorable mention selection for her freshman season. She followed that up in her sophomore season with 185 kills and 147 digs as Red Oak finished 19-13 for the season.
The 2010 season will be one that will always sticks out in French’s mind as it was her first chance to go to the state volleyball tournament in Cedar Rapids. Red Oak made the run through regionals and defeated Carroll in a five-game thriller to go to the state tournament for the first time since 2007.
“It really meant a lot to us,” French said. “Even now, I'm getting goosebumps thinking about it because it's just the greatest memory ever.”
Red Oak was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Mount Vernon at state, but the experience of going to state volleyball is still something French still takes pride in.
“I know that I've seen her on Facebook saying to some of the girls, how she just watched the video again,” Montgomery said about French watching video from their regionals.
After the season, French was named first team all-Hawkeye Ten Conference for the first time while being named to several all-state teams.
But it was French’s senior season that was perhaps her best as she finished with 395 kills, 304 digs, 27 blocks and 30 serving aces while leading the Tigers to within a match of another trip back to Cedar Rapids. French once again was first team all-conference and was selected to all-state by the Iowa Girls Coaches Association.
“I wish we could have made it [to state] this year, but things happen,” French said about just missing state her senior season.
French has also competed in club volleyball, which she has done alongside the other sports she’s competed in during high school.
“You build a relationship with people that you might not like in the beginning, but they turn out to be some really great people,” she said.
French moved to Red Oak in sixth grade from Wahoo, Neb. Sports, she found, was a great way for the new girl to fit in
“I think it was better early on than it would have been moving here in 10th grade,” she said. “My sister was stuck in the situation so it kind of sucked for her.”
French will now move on to play volleyball at Morningside College in Sioux City. She signed a letter of intent in January and plans to major in biology.
“I'm going to be focused on one sport and I can have all the down time I want and need,” French said.
French said she’ll miss her friends the most, especially her senior classmates.
With conflicting schedules, French acknowledges it will be hard seeing some of her friends.
“I know I'm not going to see them everyday like at high school,” she said.
French plans on coming back to Red Oak to support the area teams.
She’s informed her former teammates she will come back to see as many volleyball matches as possible.
“I'd love to wear a Red Oak volleyball jersey, that's going to be one of the biggest things I missed,” French said.