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THE GRIND: North Forsyth's Gilbert helping Lady Raiders volleyball leap into contention
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Bri Gilbert made an easy transition from gymnastics to volleyball before entering North Forsyth High School. The rising junior emerged as the Lady Raiders go-to hitter last season. - photo by Paul Dybas

“If you think you can reach it, it’s not high enough.”

That slogan has both figurative and literal significance for North Forsyth rising junior Bri Gilbert. Gilbert is finally an upperclassman for the Lady Raiders, but you wouldn’t guess it by the stat sheet. Last season she overwhelmingly led her team in kills, with 183, and attempts as the primary outside hitter for North.

Gilbert’s power helped lead her team to a 21-17 record, culminating in what head coach Joy Stewart called “the best season we’ve had.”

But that’s not high enough. Gilbert wants a state title. To her, that should be the team’s one and only goal.

You can’t shoot any higher than that.

“My goal is definitely to try and win state this year,” Gilbert said. “We have such a strong team with a lot of girls returning, plus some new players this year. We’re only going to get better.”

Gilbert is also trying to jump higher. She’s been taking her game to new heights since her volleyball playing career began four years ago. As an outside hitter, her vertical leap is a vital aspect of her skillset, and her 24-inch vertical just won’t cut it for her.

“I definitely want to get my vertical to go up four more inches,” she said. She’s working with a personal trainer to improve her muscle strength and leaping ability.

The truth is, Gilbert has been on the upswing for a while.

From when she was 5 years old until the year before high school, Gilbert was focused on gymnastics. It was her primary focus and sport of choice, but eventually her stature outgrew the sport. She said she never hit a major growth spurt, but there was always the gradual theme of being “a little too tall.”

Eventually it caught up with her. Now 5-foot-11, Gilbert was forced to pick up a new sport after her frame made it nearly impossible to keep on the bars and beams in the gym.

“Volleyball looked like fun,” she said.

So Gilbert went with her Dad into her back yard where they kept an inflatable pool and a volleyball net, and they decided to turn volleyball into her new focus. So far it’s working.

“She was only a sophomore last year, but she was definitely our leader on the court,” Stewart said. “She is our go-to hitter. She also has a great serve and is really powerful.”

Gilbert has started to look into college programs she might be interested in playing for, like Piedmont College, Birmingham Southern, Armstrong State, Kennesaw State and Clemson.

Despite her quick rise through the team ranks, Gilbert has focused on staying as humble as possible. She said it was easy as a sophomore, being a younger girl on the team, but that a “back to the basics” approach implemented by Stewart keeps the team grounded.

“Every season so far we have gone back to the basics. I learn stuff I didn’t know from the beginning,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert also likes to be a team facilitator off the court, from encouraging dance parties, team sleepovers and days on the lake. Creating a family environment has helped the team grow into one cohesive unit.

“We had a much better season than we did before because we work together as a family, not just as a team,” Gilbert said.

“She is fun and smiling off the court,” Stewart said. “But on the court she’s in beast mode the entire time. She doesn’t let mistakes affect her, and in a girl’s sport that’s really important because sometimes we get emotional and drag the whole team down.”