Spartan Spotlight - Casie Gano

LANGLEY, British Columbia - Casie Gano calls it “the most embarrassing day of (her) life.”

Perhaps the Trinity Western middle was being a touch hyperbolic, but given the tone in which she recollected the events, perhaps not at all.

At 14 years old, the then 6-foot Gano sat in a school parking lot in Cochrane, Alta. pleading with her mom not to force her to go into the gym.

Outside of the car and inside the gymnasium doors were a bunch of fellow 14-year-old girls preparing to try out for the Cochrane-based U15 Jaguars Volleyball club team. She was relatively new to volleyball in general and club volleyball was an entirely foreign concept altogether. Gano, who is from Sundre, Alta. and had just made the hour drive to Cochrane, didn’t want to go in.

“I realized halfway there that I don’t know anybody, that I’ve never done this before and that I’m not good at volleyball,” Gano says. “I just got nervous and I was like, ‘I don’t want to do this.’”

Her mom assured her that she didn’t have to go in, but suggested that it would probably be a good idea just to give it a shot.

“So I went in,” Gano says. “And I was mortified.”

As a 14-year-old girl, when everyone else is wearing one thing and you’re wearing something vastly different, it can be traumatizing. Such was the case for Gano as she stood in the gym wearing basketball shoes, basketball shorts and a Dwayne Wade basketball jersey.

“I was the only person wearing these baggy clothes,” Gano says. “I didn’t even know spandex existed at this point in my life.

“My cousin (Tristin Hogarth) was there. She came up to me and was like, ‘What are you wearing?’”

That probably didn’t help.

Fortunately, after Hogarth’s initial inquiry, Gano’s cousin took the neophyte volleyballer under her wing and did her best to guide the nearly 6-foot Gano through the drills. She may not have exactly been the star of the show, but with her height and athleticism, Jaguars coach Landon Thompson, who had met Gano at a previous volleyball camp, wasn’t about to let go. Even if she was in the process of garnering a less than flattering nickname.

“They called me Tuna because I was always in the net,” Gano says. “But I made that team by being tall and possibly being good later on.”

Thompson says: “She was this tall, gangly girl who was awkward, but she had potential. She just had the skills, the attitude and the coachability that made it easy for her develop into an exceptional player. Half the battle was convincing her that she was so good.”

And, it was in that gym where her career began and as Gano says, “I haven’t looked back since.”

Eight years later, she is now in her fourth year with TWU and has found her way into the Spartans starting lineup. In eight matches this year, she’s averaging 1.03 blocks per set and 1.20 kills per set. She’s also already set university career-highs for kills, collecting seven twice, and blocks, earning six twice.

And if one look back eight years, her success can be traced to that day as a 14-year-old.

In essence, that day has been reflected time and time again throughout her volleyball career. Not the embarrassing moments, but her willingness to try just about anything.

Since arriving at TWU in the fall of 2010 after graduating from Sundre High School, Gano has largely been defined by four words.

Fill in the blank.

Whatever the Spartans have needed, the now fourth-year Gano has happily, and aptly, slotted into the empty gap.

Whether that be as an expert cheerleader on the sidelines or switching from being an outside hitter – the position she was originally recruited for – to being a middle blocker. Or simply whether that be just filling an off-court void to help lead the team.

“I will be whatever is not there at the time,” Gano says. And always excited to try something new.

Frankly, coming to TWU in the first place was precisely one of those situations.

In her last year with the Calgary Dinos Volleyball Club – she moved from the Cochrane Jaguars to the Dinos for her U17 and U18 years, where she played alongside current Spartans Carly Hamilton and Lauren and Kristen Moncks – Gano wasn’t even a consistent starter. Yet, like Thompson on that first day in Cochrane, Spartans coach Ryan Hofer saw potential in the now 6-foot-1 and remarkably athletic Gano.

So, she came to Langley. Albeit still with a bit of skepticism about the Christianity-rooted school. And also the eagerness of Alicia Perrin, who, much to Gano’s chagrin, inquired about being roommates.

“At first I was terrified,” Gano says. “I didn’t want to room with anyone on the team, but Alicia contacted me and asked to be roommates. I did not want to be her roommate. But in the end, I said, ‘Yea, sure.’”

Four years later and now off campus, they’re still roommates.

“We were perfect,” Gano says. “It worked out really well.”

Four years later, she’s also no longer a skeptic of the university.

“I’ve totally changed since I got here,” Gano says. “This is one of the most incredible places. It’s changed my life being here and I’ve seen it change other people’s lives. I became a Christian here and this is just a place where change happens.”

And change for Gano, while certainly a process, came, at least in part, thanks to the roommate she didn’t want.

It was partway through both of their first years and Gano and Perrin were in their dorm. Gano was listening to, as she describes some “pretty depressing music, because that’s where I was.”

Perrin, in something of an intervening fit, stood up, opened the blinds and stopped Gano’s iPod. Turning to Gano, she got straight to the point.

“We’re not listening to this depressing crap anymore,” Perrin said.

“We were really good friends at that point, so she was comfortable enough to do that,” Gano says. “That was kind of moment. Being trapped in a tiny room, you’re really held accountable for how you live your life. That was definitely helpful.”

And over the course of her first year after the “depressing crap” was turned off, Gano’s outlook perked up. Life turned for the better. And in her second year, she caught her on-court break. With starting middle Nicole Bazin on the sideline with an injury early in the fall semester, the Spartans needed a middle. Hofer asked the team who wanted to give it a whirl.

Surprise. Surprise. Gano’s hand shot up.

Throughout that first semester, she filled in admirably, helping the Spartans to a 7-3 Canada West record.

“She’s such a great blocker and she has a good arm on her that she filled in and played really well,” Hofer says. “She made an impact on the floor.”

Now, after last year training both on the outside and in the middle, Gano is in the middle full-time. It’s there where she’s creating a home. It may not be natural, but she’s playing and playing well.

“I think the opportunity presented itself to Casie to fill a graduating role,” Hofer says. “She’s been in the position before when we’ve had injuries and done very well for us. I’m excited and I have a lot of expectations and high hopes for her.”

Now, she’s trying to embrace her new role. She’s as happy go-lucky as she’s ever been – although she admits to some serious nerves come game time – but she’s no longer is she just a cheerleader. She’s a starter and as a fourth-year, a leader. Even if she still needs some convincing.

“Now that it’s changed, I want to feel like I’ve arrived,” Gano says. “But it hasn’t happened yet. I feel like I should know what I’m doing and I should be a calm, cool and collected leader. But on the inside, I get really nervous.

“Sometimes I don’t feel like I fit there. I still feel like I’m filling in a position, but over time I think it’ll become my role. I want to be really good and I think I can be. I think it’ll come.”

Hamilton, who played alongside Gano for six years believes she’s already arrived.

“She has just become unstoppable,” Hamilton says. “I don’t think in club, she ever got her chance. Now that she’s been given the chance to start, she’s blossomed into this beautiful player who is so diverse. I think she has surpassed everyone’s expectations. Now she’s go-to player.”

Over the past two weekends, Gano has collected 19 blocks and 26 kills, which is to say, she’s becoming the consistent player she’s always wanted to be.

However, at the core of it all, the key for Gano is she’s maintained her fun-loving personality. She’s competitive, but as she admits, “I have to have fun with it or it’s not worth it. The more I care about it, the more worked up I get about it and that can be a detriment.

“I think that sometimes makes me a little different. I’m committed and I love being on the team but it’s never been my ultimate passion.”

Even for Hofer, that can be a good thing.

“Casie is Casie,” Hofer says. “She’s brings laughs and chaos in a good way. She can be loosey-goosey and have fun, yet there’s still a serious side to her that wants to be successful.”

All told, that’s the balance in life that Gano seeks.

Studying philosophy and environmental studies, she simply loves school. Volleyball was the means to allow her to pursue post-secondary academics. Beyond TWU, she has dreams of studying environmental law and even bigger dreams of one day becoming a judge.

And if she that reality ever comes to pass, there’s no doubt her well-rounded character would be on full display.
“She’s a passionate and caring teammate who wants to see her teammates do well personally and spiritually,” Hofer says. “She has a deep love for her heavenly Father and wants to see others grow in that relationship. She is also passionate about the community and gives so much back. She’s a culture-carrier.”

Volleyball is one of the tools she’s using to do all this.

And for Gano, the Spartans and Trinity Western on the whole, they can thank Thompson for giving her a shot, her mom for “encouraging” her to tryout and perhaps even a certain basketball jersey that, at the very least, made her stand out in the crowd.

In a text, she once told an inquirer, that “basically my life was/is one embarrassing moment.” True or not, there is one thing that’s for certain. As Thompson says, “you want to be at the party where she’s at.”


Last Updated: 2013-11-23
Author: Mark Janzen

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