The dream of playing volleyball in California first surfaced for Lauryn Gillis at age 10.
Back then, Gillis idolized Kerri Walsh, who paired up with Misty May to win the beach volleyball gold medal at the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics. When Gillis learned that Walsh hailed from California, she dreamed of some day playing in the Golden State, too.
That dream has lived on for Gillis as she has matured into one of the top volleyball players in the nation. Thursday, the New Castle junior outside hitter ensured it will soon happen by orally committing to play for the University of Southern Cal.
Gillis chose USC over her other finalist Kentucky. She called USC coach Mick Haley after school Thursday and told him of her decision.
“As soon as I told him, he was ecstatic, so I’m excited to get out there,” Gillis said.
Thursday turned out to be an exceptional day for Haley. First, he landed one of the top players in the nation in Gillis, and then his No. 2 Trojans beat No. 1 UCLA in their PAC-12 opener.
Haley started recruiting Gillis after he watched her play for the Munciana 18 Open Samurai at a club tournament in Houston in late March. He then attended her matches at the AAU National Championships in Orlando, Fla., where she led the Samurai to a national runner-up finish.
Samurai coach Mike Lingenfelter said Haley showed up each morning before their matches in Orlando to make sure Gillis understood she ranked at the top of his priority list.
Gillis traveled to Southern California in May to visit USC and UCLA, and the Trojans surged to the top of her list.
“Both schools were amazing, but something about USC just clicked,” she said.
USC joined the Gillis sweepstakes relatively late in the recruiting process. First-year New Castle coach Randy Gardner said Kentucky offered Gillis a scholarship a year earlier when she played club for him on the Munciana 15 Open Ninjas.
“I knew she was special back then,” Gardner said. “That’s when the whole recruiting period started for her. She’s a once-in-a-lifetime player to get to coach.”
Gillis is in the midst of a monster junior campaign for Class 4A No. 2 New Castle. She tops the Trojans in kills with 308 on just 527 swing, and she ranks second on the team in digs with 138.