A Competitive Sort
Sept. 3, 2009
By Larry Watts
Carrie Gurnell has got game -- both on and off the volleyball court.
In 2009, Gurnell steps into the role as one of the team leaders for Purdue University, which is trying to build on its best finish since 1985. The Boilermakers put together a 26-9 mark in 2008, ending their season with a NCAA Regional semifinal loss to No. 6 Hawaii. But the graduation of four key seniors will take a bit of adjustment.
"We're all in positions that no one is used to or don't have a lot of experience in," says the senior outside hitter from Katy, Texas. "But I'm very optimistic on how things are going to go and I think everything will eventually fall into place."
Hosting the Mortar Board Preview in their season-opening series, the Boilers posted a 2-1 record. Gurnell recorded 42 kills in 11 games, nearly twice as many as her nearest teammate, but the play at the net is secondary in her mind.
"I've played outside hitter before, but I have never played all the way around through the back row," she says. "I've never had to incorporate serving and hitting from the back row into my game. It's getting better and I'm confident in my own hitting, but I need to keep working on the defense.
"Reading where I am supposed to go on defense doesn't come naturally to me yet. A lot of success in playing the middle back is being in the right spot at the right time. I'll eventually figure it out."
Serving may take the longest for her to develop in her game. Suffering a torn labrum during the summer following her freshman year in West Lafayette, she finally underwent surgery during the Christmas break.
"It (the injury) probably happened while I was working at Purdue's summer camp," the 6-foot-1 Gurnell says. "We went into a gym to play around and I was using all arms, not jumping at all because my legs were tired. I think I blew my shoulder out by trying to do too much with my arms and not using my legs enough because jumping is a big part of my game.
"The surgery tightened up the ligaments on both sides of my shoulder. I was serving short this past weekend, but soon I will start incorporating deep serves into my game."
Considering she didn't start playing club volleyball until following her freshman year at Cinco Ranch High School, Gurnell has proved she is a quick learner and should have little problem making the adjustment to the new demands of her game.
"I was on the Freshman A team in high school. I was athletic, but I wasn't very good. A club coach approached me about coming out and she put me on her top team."
Not confident in her ability, there was a period of two weeks when she left the club team.
"I was horrible," Gurnell says. "I didn't want to be the person who was always out there messing up.
"There was so much I didn't know because in high school they just throw you out there and see what you can do. If you can't do it, you would sit on the bench. But in club, they taught me not only how to do things but the mindset behind the game. Seeing the holes, the block and what routes to run was all new to me."
Until she hooked on with the club volleyball team, Gurnell always thought her destiny was to play basketball, just like the rest of her family. Her father played hoops at Indiana State and he coached her mother on a team in the Air Force. Her brother Christian and sister Stephanie followed their footsteps and played basketball in high school.
Gurnell did play high school basketball for a year and a half. But when she opted to play in a national qualifying tournament for her club volleyball team rather than attend a basketball film session one Saturday morning, she got the boot from the hoops team.
"It was horrible," Gurnell says of her dismissal. "I was disappointed they took a film session so seriously over playing in a national qualifying tournament. But the decision was probably for the best. I had been getting some letters for basketball from some small schools, but volleyball offered me more opportunities. To this day I probably love basketball as much as volleyball."
But Gurnell also has a unique love in her life. She has become a video game addict. Her dream job would be taking her degree in professional writing and working for a video game magazine.
"Ever since we were little kids, I can remember sitting on the bed and watching our parents play video games," she says. "My dad played Kirby's Avalanche and my mom would play Pac Man and Frogger.
"I started out on Mario Brothers and the duck shooting game. I don't play those games anymore. Every once in awhile we'll bust out Mario on the Super Nintendo. I could probably finish Mario 3 in less than hour now; you just have to use all the whistles."
Some of her fondest memories are playing the video games with her siblings, especially Christian, who is two years younger. Some of those games would turn pretty heated and would end with Carrie firing a controller at Christian's head or the game suddenly being shut off.
"I would probably smack him every day because he talks a lot of trash," she says with a laugh. "I would get so mad at him because he would get so lucky. It was easy to make him cry. This was serious business when we were younger."
Primarily an older console player ("I'm not about to spend $300 on (a newer console) when my brother and boyfriend each have one"), Gurnell has graduated into adventure games, listing Final Fantasy, Tomb Raider, World of Warcraft and Call of Duty among her favorites.
"My brother and I got into Final Fantasy before he could read," she says. "The old version of the game only had subtitles and I would read them to him, using different voices. We would really get into it; it was almost like an interactive book when we played. You could really lose yourself in the game. I still listen to the soundtrack."
But sports games and the Wii system really have no appeal to Gurnell.
"I hate playing the sports games because they're too repetitive," she says. "You may be using different teams, but you're really doing the same thing over and over. Once you figure it out, you can be pretty good at it. Play me once or twice; you might kill me, but that third time I'm going to give you a run for your money because I figure things out pretty quickly.
"As for the Wii, I'm a graphics person, so it's not on my list of things I like to play. Those little bubbleheads aren't really gaming to me."
And what do her teammates think of her passion for video games?
"There's not really much time to play video games during the season," she says. "From time to time, we get together for laughs and play Karaoke Revolution or Guitar Hero."
With a minor in art and design, Gurnell says she wouldn't mind designing covers for games if the writing end doesn't work out.
"I feel like I'm a pretty worldly person because I like a lot of things," she says. "I'm knowledgeable enough in the gaming world. I could be a general game informer, give hints and walkthroughs. I could be a critic, write game concepts or even storylines."
But right now, the only storyline Gurnell is focused on is getting the Boilers back to the NCAA Tournament.
"The scary thing is we don't know what to expect," she says. "We have eight new girls and there is no real set lineup as of yet. We have the talent and ability to be among the top three in the Big Ten, but it all depends on how we come together."