Gabby Mallette, a starter in both her freshman and sophomore seasons at Outside Hitter (OH) for the Top 10 ranked Florida Gators volleyball team, has spent most of her life living in the Sunshine State. She is a native Kansan however, and still has strong ties to the Sunflower State.
Mallette was born in Wichita, Kansas but she and her family moved to Jacksonville, Florida when she was seven years old. Her mother, Missy Walker-Jones, grew up in the tiny south-central Kansas town of Sylvia. Mallette’s grandparents, Gary and Karen Walker, still live there.
Despite the fact she is pretty much a Floridian, she still loves her Kansas roots. She looks forward to her visits to her grandparents’ home, and she fondly recalls going fishing and hunting with her grandparents, her uncle Todd, and her cousins.
Hunting is something that is far different than anything she does for fun at home, and she likes the tranquility of sitting quietly, away from the hustle and bustle of her life in big cities. The closeness of family, sitting in silence in a duck blind, is something Mallette wouldn’t trade for anything.
Her family loves to visit her in Florida for holidays but Mallette likes it best whenever she comes to Kansas to visit her family. Kansas is still her favorite place to be.
Mallette, who has a 35″ vertical jump, has been able to dunk a tennis ball since the 7th grade. She can reach as high as 10’8″, and her struck balls have been clocked at 62 miles per hour. Gabby got a good chunk of her athleticism from her mother Missy.
Missy Walker-Jones starred in volleyball and basketball at Fairfield High School before going on to play basketball at Hutchinson Community College. She also played at Belhaven College in Jackson, Mississippi.
Mallette attributes some of her athletic ability to her father, Lamont Mallette, who also played basketball at the collegiate level. Lamont still still lives in Wichita, Kansas.
Mallette was recruited nationally for volleyball, by some of the biggest names in the sport. Kansas State was high on her list, and the Wildcats offered her a scholarship. Her mom is a huge Kansas State fan, and playing in Manhattan would have put her very close to her Kansas family.
While she considered these factors, plus the fact that Kansas State has an amazing program, she ultimately chose to stay close to home, and her mother. She accepted a scholarship to play for the Florida Gators.
Academics played a big part in Gabby’s decision to play for Florida. She loved the balance and competitiveness in the class room (Mallette made the SEC Freshman Academic Honor Roll last season), and on the court offered by the Gators. Of course, she was also eager to play for Head Coach Mary Wise.
Wise has one of the most impressive success rates as the head coach at Florida as any coach in the country, for volleyball, or any other sport. At Florida, over 23 seasons, Wise is an incredible 714-84 (.895). For her career, she is 795-151 (.840). For Gabby, it was much more than the wins and losses.
Mary Wise was one of, if not the reason, why I chose the University of Florida. Yes, she has a great record, but after having a conversation with her, it’s hard not to love her. She is so intense and competitive. I’ve never met anyone like her. She believes in every single one of her players, and it makes me proud to say that I play for her.
Of course, playing close to home, where her mom could see her compete, figured in heavily in Mallette’s decision to attend Florida. Gabby considers her mom her backbone.
While Missy gets to see her daughter play nearly every home game, Gabby’s grandparents, Gary and Karen, have made the trip to Florida to see Mallette play on occasion. The trip from Sylvia, Kansas to Gainsville, Florida isn’t just a morning’s drive, and Gabby appreciates he grandparents’ efforts.
I love spending time with my grandparents. They love so hard, I’ve never met anyone else like that. Having them watch me play is the best feeling.
Her family, including her grandparents, her aunt and uncle, Stacey and Todd Walker, who live in Lenexa, Kansas, and her two cousins, Caleb and Jared, made the much shorter trip to see her play in Columbia, Missouri this season when the Gators faced the Tigers in SEC play. While she appreciates the efforts of her family to come see her play, she is all business on the court.
She is able to put her excitement at seeing her family members aside when she steps on the court. Gabby feeds off the energy of the crowd but can’t hear anyone specifically. Her concentration is focused on her opponents, her teammates, and her coaches.
There may be one exception to this rule. Mallette’s nickname is Tiny, despite her 6’2″ height. This is derivative of a nickname her mom called her as a baby. Gabby was 8 pounds, 10 ounces, and 22 inches in length at birth, despite being a month early, hence the nickname Tiny.
During games, she can only hear one person call out her nickname – the person who bestowed it on her in the first place – her mother.
The Gators, who were the 5th overall seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament, suffered a second round upset at the hands of their rivals, the Florida State Seminoles, in a hard fought, 5-set match. It was the toughest loss of Mallette’s young career but there is little time to dwell on the past in college athletics.
Gabby and her teammates get a break over the holidays, then they go right back to work with classes, workouts, and practices in the first week of January. Such is the life of a college athlete.
Gabby Mallette may have spent most of her life in a big city but she certainly appreciates her small town Kansas history. She tries to live by the small town values her mom has tried to instill in her. Her mom has taught her to be kind to every person she encounters, and to appreciate the little things in life.
While it has been a long time since she has lived in Kansas, Gabby hasn’t forgot her Kansas roots.
…nothing makes me happier than seeing a sunflower!
Special thanks to Matt Pendleton, whose outstanding action photos were used in this article. To see more of his terrific work, visit http://mattpendleton.com.