“I’m glad I don’t have to face you across the net,” says the interviewer to the 5-foot 9 ½-inch tall sand volleyball assassin, who sits in her chair opposite, her entire length seemingly coiled to strike like a cobra.
Volleyball opponents are saved the menacing look, because Gibson now wears sunglasses in competition. “People look where they’re going to serve,” she explains. “That’s part of the reason I wear glasses, so that they can’t see my eyes. But I’ve started wearing a hat, too, because of the sun. I have a lot of freckles, and I was bad at wearing sunscreen.”
But in the Lady Knight’s cutthroat net attack on the sand, opposing teams aren’t saved the competitiveness. “I get that from my dad, William,” the rising junior says. “Definitely. He’s loud. He has an incredible work ethic.”
Her mother Marnell is no slouch, either. She’s somewhat of a trailblazer. Haley says that in working for the City of San Diego, her mother took a position that had never been held by a woman before.
She’s also the parent who played beach, or sand, volleyball first, according to her intense daughter, then taught Bill. Then it was passed on to their elder daughter.
“Actually, I didn’t want to do it,” Haley confesses now. She loved the ocean. As her skill in multiple sports developed, her parents made her make a choice, and she chose beach volleyball.
“My mother grew up in Lake Tahoe, my dad in Sun Valley, Idaho. They met at San Diego State. We used to go up to Lake Tahoe for a ski trip, but now with beach volleyball, it’s a little more serious and harder to fit in trips.”
“My dad loves to ski,” she says.”He uses the old, skinny skis, but he’s really good on them. It’s really funny.”
“My sister Simone (finishing the sixth grade at Muirlands) and I both swam. I ran into the water when I was little. My parents got freaked out. They said, ‘If we’re going to live this close to the beach, we better put her in swim lessons.’”
Gibson verbally committed to Tulane University June 3, literally days after finishing the 10th grade. In the sometimes dog-eat-dog world of college athletic scholarships, colleges will over-recruit at one position, then rescind an individual’s scholarship a short time before the school year starts.
On the other side, athletes can revoke their verbal commitments, which Gibson has no intention of doing. But still, with two full years of school and two summers left to play in the nearly year-round training schedule, Tulane already has influence over the young student’s life.
The seriousness of the scholarship pursuit, while playing for the unofficial school team as well as for her club team, Wave Volleyball, has meant that annual summer trips to her beloved godmother Melissa Stokes’ place in Missouri have had to go by the wayside. Stokes holds a special place in Gibson’s life. She is the indoor women’s volleyball head coach at Missouri State. Undoubtedly, she has lent her own competitive fire to her goddaughter and communicated a wily veteran’s mindset on the court.
A favorite childhood memory is the two families’ vacation together on Roatan, an island in the Caribbean off the coast of Honduras in Central America. “It was for my birthday,” says Gibson, when she turned 5 years old. “(Melissa) got a discount.” The Gibson family, including Simone, Haley’s sister, went with Stokes, her parents and two sisters.
“It was so gorgeous,” remembers Gibson, for a moment wistful. “It was before everyone had discovered it. You got (scrumptious) food in the morning. The hotel was absolutely incredible. They had a place where you could swim with the dolphins.”
Regarding the annual trips to Missouri, she says, “We went every year. We did jet-skiing and cliff jumping. Some of my fondest memories are of Missouri.”
But she has now focused her steely look on sand volleyball. Her involvement on the Elite team has led to an invitation to a Queen of the Beach event June 24-26 in Hermosa Beach. The inaugural event is founded by Eric Fonoimoana, a 2000 Olympic gold medalist. She will play in a round-robin format, in which each of the women rotates partners in the two-person competition. Included are top high school, as well as college, players in the U.S.
Preceding that, she will train and stay in Hermosa Beach for a separate tournament June 15-17 as part of the USA A1 High Performance Volleyball team she was selected for. Her coaches in La Jolla, Matt Olson, director of Wave Volleyball, and Mike Placek, her individual coach, can only be relishing the growth and confidence Haley will experience as a result of these competitions.
Her mental approach is scorched-earth: “I can’t let any ball hit the floor,” she says. “You’ll surprise yourself with the balls you can get to.”
Like her dad competitively, she says, “I’m a very loud person. If you see me on the court, I’m really loud. I tone it down in the school environment, but on the court it’s all or nothing.”
Her focus on her volleyball is such that she tells friends who invite her to do things which conflict time-wise with training that she can’t go. “They’re used to that,” she says.
“I really like to hit. My setting is really good,” she allows.
On her singular focus, she says, “You kind of just tune everything out. You focus on the moment. You can’t focus on the score or (other circumstances).
“It’s very in the moment. It doesn’t matter whether you’re 10 points up, or 10 points down. You don’t notice the little things.” Do you notice spectators moving around? “If it’s between points, maybe. But not during actual play.”
She has already suffered a broken wrist and injured her ankle in her young sports career. “My fingers get cold,” she says, though it’s not a result from her fracture. “You’re in gyms at 7 a.m. There’s no heat. You’re on the beach, where’s there no heat.”
Gibson’s sister Simone is on the fast track just behind her. “The day I started volleyball, my little sister started volleyball,” she says. “Everything I do, she does. It’s hard sometimes. She’s developing faster than me. I’m really proud of her.”