Bob Lutz

Rose Hill’s Gracie Van Driel becomes a Jayhawk three years early

Rose Hill sophomore Gracie Van Driel has orally committed to play in college at Kansas, but first comes a state tournament and two more years of high school.
Rose Hill sophomore Gracie Van Driel has orally committed to play in college at Kansas, but first comes a state tournament and two more years of high school. The Wichita Eagle

Rose Hill’s Gracie Van Driel took her first volleyball visit to Iowa State last year. She was 14.

“I was like ‘Wow, this is becoming so real,’ ” Van Driel said. “I really had to think about my future and I was only 14. There was a lot of stress.”

Eventually, Van Driel decided she would play volleyball at Kansas, where she’ll begin her freshman season in 2019. That’s one decision — perhaps the biggest one — out of the way.

“I knew that I wanted to go to KU and that it was the right fit for me,” Van Driel said. “I was really happy to get that stress out of me.”

Some will question why Van Driel didn’t go through more of a recruiting process. But she found the right place and went for it. Besides, what’s not to like about KU volleyball? The Jayhawks, who went to their first Final Four last year, are ranked No. 6.

“The coaches at KU are just amazing and the campus is amazingly beautiful,” Van Driel said. “Their team is just so good and I feel like I could really be a part of that culture.”

In a few years.

First, the 6-foot-1 Van Driel has 2 1/2 years of high school to complete. She’s excited that Rose Hill (34-6) is headed to the Class 4A-I tournament in Salina beginning Friday after missing out in her freshman season.

“Getting to state is just so amazing,” Van Driel said. “And it’s my last year with my sister, Anna, because she’s a senior.”

Anna plays outside hitter — Gracie plays mostly in the middle — and is amazed by her sister’s volleyball ability.

“I remember watching her play in a tournament in St. Louis before her freshman year and I was so impressed with how much better she had become,” Anna Van Driel said. “I was like, ‘Wow, Gracie has gotten really good.’ 

It was at that tournament, Gracie said, that coaches from KU first took notice.

Anna, who plays basketball and is on Rose Hill’s track and field team, said she’s going to try to make the rowing team at KU next year.

“It’s not something I’ve done much of, but I want to give it a try,” she said. “It’s something new. I went on a tour of the campus in July and they let me come and visit the boathouse. It seems interesting and cool.”

Gracie, who runs on Rose Hill’s 400- and 1600-meter relay teams as well as high jump and long jump, was a basketball player like her sister until she got to high school.

“Last year, the coach talked to me every day in the hallway about going out for basketball,” Gracie Van Driel said. “This year it’s, ‘You going out for basketball?’ I’m really not the type of person who likes a lot of physicality. In volleyball, I like that there’s a net between me and the other person. There’s maybe been two days that I’ve actually thought about really going back to basketball. But it’s not going to happen.”

Rose Hill volleyball coach Melissa Segovia said Van Driel has natural abilities as a volleyball player.

“She has a natural arm swing,” Segovia said. “She has a lot of versatility. She also does the hard work that goes with being a really good athlete and she has a passion for the game. She’s just a really complete volleyball player.”

Van Driel started playing volleyball as a second grader and, despite being two years younger, played on her sister’s team.

“This really became my favorite sport in middle school when I realized basketball wasn’t going to be for me,” Van Driel said. “Volleyball gives me such a rush of adrenalin. Every play is so much fun and the team aspect of this sport is big for me. I love that, knowing that somebody has your back in the back row.”

Segovia brought Van Driel to Rose Hill’s varsity team last season and the impact was immediate.

“That doesn’t always happen with a freshman,” Segovia said. “But I first became aware of Gracie when she was in the eighth grade and she had really started to come along. As they get older and start to figure things out, the movements come along a little bit better. She was able to step in right away and start hitting, blocking and doing all the things she needed to do.”

Anna Van Driel has mostly stayed out of trying to talk her sister into playing basketball again.

“I know she’s into the whole volleyball thing and I know she doesn’t like to get physical,” Anna said. “And I’m the complete opposite. I will get in there and push people around for a rebound.

“I think she would help our basketball team more than she thinks. She would be really good at rebounding and running the floor.”

Basketball, though, has become an afterthought for Gracie. She’ll use her time after volleyball to rest, play more volleyball and prepare for track season.

First, though, she wants to enjoy this one last volleyball experience with Anna.

“We’re very close,” Gracie said of her only sibling. “Some of it is because we’ve both played volleyball, but the other part is that we just really grew close together. She’s really funny so I can go to her when I need a laugh.”