The NCAA Division I Northeast Conference sponsors a rookie-of-the-week award in women’s volleyball.
They might as well name it for 2023 Bedford High School graduate Gaby Zovko. This season she has been recognized 10 times.
And for good reason. Although her first Sacred Heart University Pioneers’ campaign ended Friday night with a 3-1 conference tournament loss to Long Island University, Zovko was stellar with her first triple-double: 28 assists, 14 digs, and 12 kills.
Serving, she added another ace and now is ranked first in single-season program history with 0.57 aces per set – in the top 10 nationally – and second with 54 total aces. She has received the team’s Setter and Rookie-of-the-Year Awards.
Coach Rob Machan said in a recent student newspaper article that Zovko “wants to get better every day, she listens, she wants to learn, she’s working hard. I don’t know if we’ve had many star freshmen come in with the accolades she’s receiving and receive them in a more humble way. She doesn’t walk around like she’s done anything; she knows it’s a team award.”
Success wasn’t automatic; at first, there were challenges. “It was a huge change for me,” Zovko said in a phone interview last week, especially adjusting to the academic demands. “The older girls helped me out and made the transition from high school to college much easier.”
Zovko arrived at Sacred Heart’s Fairfield, CT, campus in mid-July, a few weeks after receiving her BHS diploma. It was pre-season, and soon “we were having two practices a day and weight training,” while serving as counselors at a youth volleyball camp on campus.
The opener against the University of Michigan was on Aug. 26, the first of four matches in a seven-day span. “After a while I really got used to it,” Zovko said. “The time went by very fast.”
Zovko noted that she got a big boost when she was joined by former BHS teammate and fellow Dual County League all-star Lauren Harrell, who transferred to Sacred Heart after competing at the University of New Orleans as a freshman. They had been teammates and friends since their days with the Gators Volleyball Club, “and we both reached our goal of playing in Division 1.” Harrell missed most of the season after suffering an injury.
Zovko said she has made the adjustment to balancing athletics and academics, and “for the past few weeks I have had more time to hang out with people and do things I want to do on my own time.”
As a youngster, she related, it was all about soccer and lacrosse, “and my dad was looking for another sport for me to do,” She was about 12 when she experienced her first Gators volleyball clinic at Lane School.
“I was very serious about lacrosse, really serious, with clubs and tournaments,” said Zovko, who helped lead the 2022 Buccaneers to the state girls’ lacrosse finals. “But sophomore year I quit club lacrosse so I could go all in for volleyball.”
She actually started her college search with some California schools that had expressed interest. “I was really focused on picking a program I would really enjoy,” she said. Then “Sacred Heart found me and with a great offer and told me about the history of winning. I wanted to go to a winning program.”
In her first year, the Pioneers finished first in the Northeastern Conference regular season. She has found that “the athletes here are close. We are all friends.”
Zovko, majoring in psychology at Sacred Heart, offered some advice to young student-athletes: “Put in the work when no one is watching. Reach out to people who are an inspiration, and who reached the goals that you want to reach.”