By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
Since her freshman season at Addison High, Stora Gilliland has watched teammate after teammate sign scholarship offers to continue their volleyball careers at the collegiate level.
But on Monday, it was her turn to lay some ink.
Proudly surrounded by family, coaches and an administrator, Gilliland signed a letter of intent to attend and play volleyball at Gadsden State Community College.
“It was amazing. It was indescribable how I felt when I signed,” the senior said. “It’s just a new beginning for me, and I’m so excited.”
Gilliland will officially suit up for the Cardinals next fall after spending the last four years decked out in Bulldog Blue and White. During that time, the talented libero (defensive specialist) had a hand in two state titles (2009-10) and two runner-up results (2011-12).
Many student-athletes would be content with at least one chance to compete for the state’s top prize. Looking back, Gilliland was extremely grateful she was in that position every season at Addison.
“I know we didn’t win the past two years, but a lot of people don’t even get to say they played in a state championship game,” she said. “That’s something I’ll always remember, playing for four championships. I can always say I was in a state championship game.”
As a first-year player in 2009, Gilliland quickly learned about the high expectations that come with being a Bulldog under legendary coach Pam Wilkins. With stars like Kaitlin Parker, Alex Scott, Sadie Beam, Jamie Blair, Morgan Ray and Heather Baldwin passing through the program throughout her prep career, Gilliland could see what kind of effort it took to contribute to the small-school powerhouse’s winning ways.
“I knew I had to step it up because Addison volleyball is nothing less than amazing,” she said. “This year was a growing year and everybody had doubts about us going to state, but look where we ended up. I hope it keeps going.”
Participating in scholarship signings is nothing new for Wilkins, who recently completed her 10th season coaching the Dawgs, but she was just as proud of Gilliland on Monday as she was for the others she’d been fortunate enough to share the experience with in the past.
“It’s exciting for any kid to get a scholarship,” the coach said. “She’s a good kid, and she deserves it.”
With four seniors lost to graduation for the second year in a row and only two returning — Gilliland and transfer Chelsea Posey — Wilkins relied on the duo’s veteran experience more than ever. Neither girl disappointed, as Posey provided plenty of pop at the net, and Gilliland blossomed as a vocal leader who backed up her talk with brilliant defensive efforts on a nightly basis.
“She stepped up this year and was a real good leader for us,” Wilkins said. “She works so hard and takes everything seriously. She’s going to give them (Gadsden State) everything she’s got every day. She’s not a slacker by any means.”
Although Gilliland is on the shorter side, at least as far as competitive volleyball is concerned, Wilkins still expects her latest standout to make an impact for the Cardinals.
“What she doesn’t have in size, she makes up for with her work ethic,” the coach said.
Graduating from high school next May will be a bittersweet experience for Gilliland. Before she can open a new chapter at Gadsden State, she will first have to close the one that began in the small, sports-friendly community of Addison. That will undoubtedly involve saying so long and farewell to many family members, friends and teammates.
And then there’s Wilkins.
“I wouldn’t have gotten as far as I’ve come if she hadn’t helped me and pushed me so much,” Gilliland said. “I know she means well, and I love her for that.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.