On the Grand Valley State University women’s volleyball team, junior outside hitter Abby Graham is one of the team’s leaders this season, placing a big emphasis on the value of a healthy team comradery and a winning culture. Graham is in the midst of her fourth and final season with the volleyball team, looking to lead the Lakers to their second consecutive first-place finish in the GLIAC South.
“My class was pretty big and the class under us was pretty big,” Graham said. “We took them under our wing and we are all super close. I really think that we have made a culture that is fun to be a part of and we all just love each other and have so much fun together.”
Coach Jason Johnson, who took the program over this season after being an assistant coach on the team for 21 years prior, said that Graham’s most impressive trait is her “compassion for people.”
Compassion is something that Graham has felt inspired to obtain from both of her parents and in particular, her mother, Donna Graham.
“I’m very close with my mom and she just inspires me to be my best and be compassionate and empathetic towards others all the time,” Graham said.
That compassion has helped Graham be successful in her role as a leader, a role she has grown into over the past four years. Graham said making sure the underclassmen on the team feel at home, settled in, and included, are all major priorities in maintaining the winning culture.
“Her leadership (has grown), which is not something she wanted early on,” Johnson said. “She did not like being in a leadership role, she didn’t want to be looked at in those regards. But she has embraced it heavily this year. I think a part of that is senior maturity.”
Adding to the characteristics Graham brings to the team as a leader, she also has produced on the court over the past three seasons with the Lakers. In the condensed 2020 season, Graham was an All-GLIAC Second Team selection and helped lead the Lakers to a 12-4 record, finishing the 16-game campaign with a total of 239 digs, 94 kills, 23 assists and 15 blocks.
Now, in the 2021 season, Graham was named GLIAC South player of the week after her performances to help the Lakers defeat Michigan Tech University and Northern Michigan University earlier this season.
In the early stages of her career at GVSU, Graham didn’t have the easiest time adjusting to college, both in the classroom and on the volleyball court. She also endured an ankle injury following her freshman year, which put her in a walking boot the entire summer.
“Things were not going perfect, but I think that was necessary to happen for me to be where I am today,” Graham said.
Moving away from her family, who reside in her hometown of St. Charles, Illinois, where Graham first began playing volleyball, was another factor in her struggle in adjusting to college.
The Illinois native had a bit of a late start to her volleyball career, first playing the sport competitively in seventh grade for her school team. Up until that point, basketball was the sport she was focused on. However, heading into high school, she stopped playing basketball to focus solely on volleyball.
It was a decision that paid dividends for the former basketball player, as she was a two-time All-State honorable mention and led her team to a regional championship in her senior season.
Playing at the next level was something Graham always knew was a possibility, but was also content with not playing following high school.
“I wanted to play in college, but I knew if I didn’t find the perfect place then maybe I wouldn’t,” Graham said. “Once I found GV, it’s where I felt like I belonged.”
Although Graham is currently a junior due to the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA because of COVID-19, she is electing to not take her extra year and call it quits after the 2021 season concludes.
“I’m feeling old,” Graham said. “I don’t know if my body will hold up. I just kinda feel like I love volleyball, but I know there is a lot more in store for me so I kind of just want to focus on my future as a speech pathologist.”
Graham said she has been applying to graduate schools in Michigan, as well as in other states. GVSU is on her list of potential schools to complete her master’s degree in speech pathology. However, even if she does return to school as a Laker next fall, she still does not plan on playing one last year of volleyball.