The Missouri State volleyball Bears have had a forgettable 2019 season, but they had a few underclassmen emerge and show promise, making the future of the program look bright.
One of the players the team has high hopes for is Sarabi Worsley-Gilbert, a sophomore who is an outside/right-side hitter with plenty of raw talent, according to her coach.
“Her explosiveness she provides in games has been tremendous,” interim head coach Manolo Concepción said. “I don’t think there are many players with the type of athleticism she has and brings into the game.”
And she’s just scratching the surface of her potential.
Worsley-Gilbert, who is from Orlando, Florida, picked up volleyball in middle school when she was 11 years old. Once she realized how talented she was, she started having dreams of playing the sport at the college level.
But first, Worsley-Gilbert developed her passion for volleyball when she joined the Orlando Tampa Volleyball Academy in 2011. The OTVA ranks as the best volleyball club in Florida and third-best in the nation.
That is where she crossed paths with Kimberly Vach, who played volleyball at Stetson and went on to a coaching career that includes four national open division championships with the OTVA.
“She helped me the most when I was young,” Worsley-Gilbert said.
Vach coached Worsley-Gilbert when she first started playing on the 11’s team and helped guide her until she graduated from Freedom High School in May 2018.
Worsley-Gilbert was named an AAU All-American in 2015 for OTVA and finished her high school career on the first-team all-metro for Freedom.
Vach noticed things start to click for Worsley-Gilbert once the team qualified for nationals and she moved up to face stiffer competition when she was 11.
“She progressed a lot faster playing with better players,” Vach said. “I really saw her potential and her athleticism. She was just really quick and had a great vertical jump. When I put her on the one’s team, she just blossomed.”
To clarify, Worsley-Gilbert essentially transitioned from junior varsity to varsity when she was playing in AAU.
“And the next year, she was a starter on one’s team,” Vach said. “don’t think she ever looked back after that.”
Worsley-Gilbert said the biggest thing she learned from the academy was that a hitter could hit in any set given to them.
“I’ve always tried to be the best hitter I can be for my setters and teammates,” she said.
Out of high school, Worsley-Gilbert started her freshman season at Texas State, where she averaged 1.86 kills and 2.04 points over 73 sets and 30 matches.
She helped the Bobcats to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year, which is something she will always remember.
“It was a dream come true,” Worsley-Gilbert said. “It was one of the biggest accomplishments I’ve ever had. It was really fun to be apart of that.”
As a sophomore, Worsley-Gilbert now finds herself at Missouri State after transferring from Texas State this past summer. She was immediately eligible to compete at Missouri State because she met all the required NCAA conditions for one-time transfer exceptions.
She said that had to due with having supportive teammates.
“I think that’s why I’m so happy here at Missouri State because my teammates are the best teammates I’ve ever had,” Worsley-Gilbert said.
So far with the Bears, Worsley-Gilbert has left her mark despite arriving to campus a week before the season started.
She said that adjustment was stressful, but she was appreciative of how welcoming the team and the coaches were through the transition.
As the season has progressed, Worsley-Gilbert has also seen more and more playing time, and she’s become a key asset to the team. She ranks fourth on the team with 147 kills and averages 2.33 kills per set this season.
She attributed her success to hitting with high hands, and working on that in practice has allowed her to be a better player against taller athletes.
“She has come into her own,” Concepción said. “Her aggressiveness and ability to play against eye-level blockers (stands out). She is a big weapon offensively.”
Worsley-Gilbert said her goals going forward are to help the team make the Missouri Conference Tournament and reach the NCAA Tournament.
“Then, go bigger and better next year,” she said.
Concepción is excited about the future for his rising sophomore.
“We haven’t had a real offseason with her,” Concepción said. “She is so young that we see so much potential. We know that she is going to continue to get better. She comes from one of the biggest clubs in the whole nation, so she is used to winning, and she is used to being competitive. She is used to playing on a high-level.”