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Seniors Autumn Gaboury-Parker, Hanna Israelsson lead talented group of youngsters

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Seniors Hanna Israelsson and Autumn Gaboury-Parker are leading a young, talented Gresham volleyball team. How do you replace the conference player of the year?

For a pair of Gresham volleyball seniors it is with camaraderie and laughter.

"We don't have any big egos on the team — anyone who thinks or knows they are better than the rest of us," said Autumn Gaboury-Parker.

"The team is a lot better than I thought it would be," Hanna Israelsson added. "We are all just here to play volleyball."

There are a lot of questions for the Gophers as they head into a new season. Gone is the highly decorated Makayla Roginski to graduation, as well as the starting backline from last season. There are freshmen and sophomores across the roster, and looming bouts with Mt. Hood Conference powerhouses Central Catholic and Nelson.

But a week out from the season opener, the team is playing with an easy confidence, thanks in large part to the coaching staff handing the reins over to Gaboury-Parker and Israelsson, a pair of four-year varsity outside hitters.

"(Autumn and Hanna) will lead the way for us this year both on offense and defense," said Coach Lori Cook.

The two are using a new style of leadership. Rather than try and intimidate their new teammates, they are building everyone up and keeping things light.

"I don't really feel or act like a senior — which is supposed to be very mature and serious," Israelsson said with a laugh. "Instead we are trying to keep everyone comfortable and excited for the season."

By playing volleyball both are following in their mother's footsteps, though for Israelsson it was begrudgingly. Gaboury-Parker's mom also played for Gresham, and there is a lot of pride in continuing that legacy. She also loves passing along Gresham volleyball traditions to this new group of players — like how to warm up and rituals for going onto the court during home games.

"It is those little things that are special and bring us together," she said.

Israelsson's mom played volleyball in college, but in a spurt of rebellion Hanna decided to play basketball. But by age 12 she finally broke down and also fell in love with the sport.

"Ever since I switched I haven't looked back," she said.

Headed into the season Gresham will replace the offensive void left by Roginski with scoring by committee. Though smaller, this is a fast, athletic team that is valuing placement and savvy over sheer power.

"We might not be able to replicate what she could do on the court, but we can work as hard as she did during games," Gaboury-Parker said.

And though the offense might take a few weeks to really rev up, from the opening serve Gresham's defense is much improved from what was at times shaky last year, dooming the squad in several close bouts.

"We struggled to communicate on defense, but it's much better now," Gaboury-Parker said. "We don't have to worry about someone being in the wrong position or two people going for the same ball."

Both Gaboury-Parker and Israelsson are strong defensively, and Coach Cook pointed to sophomore Tenzin Choedon in the libero position as being the vocal leader for the new and improved Gopher defense.

"Everyone is willing to learn, we are a very coachable team," Israelsson said. "And we all like each other."

Gresham is going to take everything one game at a time. The goal is to win games and again reach playoffs. There is room to grow. Despite the individual talent last season, the team only finished a game above .500 and were bounced out of the playoffs in round one.

"I want us to play as a team," Gaboury-Parker said. "We might be young, but we are going to prove we can play at that top level."

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