Alittle less than 4 years ago, Gretchen Gould had some lofty goals before entering the halls of Sterling High School.
When it came to athletics, she wanted to be in the “S Club” – an honor that goes to SHS students who compete in a fall, winter and spring sport all 4 years of high school.
She also wanted to win the Roscoe Eades Award – a distinction that goes to the school’s top female and male athlete in a given year.
As it turned out, Gould’s goals were a bit modest.
She did indeed join the S Club. In the 2018-19 school year, nine Golden Warriors (six girls, three boys) were honored with that
She also won the Roscoe Eades Award. She joined the likes of 2018 winner Erin Long (cross country, swimming and track), 2017 winner Maggie McPherson (cross country and track) and 2016 winner Erin Stroup (basketball and softball) to receive an award given out since 1975 (1960 for boys) that is voted on by Sterling coaches.
“There’s been so many great players,” Gould said, “and it’s just crazy that I would be up there at their level. It’s really an honor. I couldn’t have done it without my coaches pushing me for 4 years and seeing potential in me from my freshman year until now.”
Gould earned one more honor before heading off to Millikin University in Decatur this fall. The three-sport standout (volleyball, basketball and softball) is the Sauk Valley Media Girls Athlete of the Year for the 2018-19 school year.
On the volleyball court, the 5-foot-11 Gould didn’t have eye-popping statistics as a middle hitter, as she amassed 105 kills, 43 blocks, 35 digs and 5 aces. A lot of the heavy on-court lifting was done by the Borum sisters (Josi, a senior; and sophomores Brooklyn and Breelyn) and sophomore Lexi Rodriguez – a quartet that could will all very likely be playing Division I volleyball someday. Josi will be this fall, at Chicago State, Rodriguez has already committed to Nebraska, and the younger Borum twins, who like Rodriguez are entering their junior seasons, are considered elite prospects.
Gould’s role was to keep an uber-talented crew that would go 41-1 and win a Class 3A state championship last fall on the same page.
“I think my job on that team was to be a good captain and a good leader,” Gould said. “Maybe I wasn’t going to score all of the points, but I wanted to be the first one to high-five the people scoring all of the points. Coach [Dale] Dykeman gave me the role of being a senior role model. I think I took that role this year and ran with it, and just tried to be a good teammate.”
Gould’s contributions, both on and off the volleyball court, were invaluable to the Golden Warriors’ success, according to Dykeman.
“With the kind of team we had, Gretchen knew she wasn’t going to be the most talented or most athletic player on the floor, so we had her concentrate on being a leader and a calming influence,” Dykeman said. “Our younger players called her ‘grandma.’ If they had a question about volleyball, about school, or sometimes about life in general, they’d go to Gretchen.
“We had two senior leaders, Gretchen and Josi Borum, that we leaned on a lot when things were kind of going sideways for us, both in practices and in games. They just kind of took charge out there.”
On the basketball court, Gould had a bigger role for Sterling. She was the team’s main inside threat, and contributed 12.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. She earned first-team all-conference and all-area honors.
“I still felt I needed to be a leader as a captain, but I tried to be more offensive,” Gould said of her role on the SHS girls basketball team. “I knew that was my strong suit – being an offensive player. I tried to be more vocal, if that’s what we needed.”
Gould helped the Golden Warriors to a 24-5 record and a regional championship. It was in the Mendota Regional final, a 42-22 win against Dixon, that she was at her best. Gould contributed 16 points and six rebounds, highlighted by one second-quarter possession that still brings a smile to the face of head coach Taylor Jackson.
“It was midway through the second quarter, and she got the ball in great position down low,” Jackson said. “She just took it at the basket with more tenacity and more fire than she had all season. She got fouled, and she got to the free-throw line, and the emotion just kind of erupted out of her. The rest of the team kind of followed her.
“I think that was characteristic of her all season in every single sport she did. Her leadership carried us through.”
Josi Borum played sparingly down the stretch of the basketball season due to a knee injury, making Gould’s presence on the court even more valuable.
“Senior year, I was definitely comfortable with making those moves or shots when it counted the most,” Gretchen said. “Freshman year, I had been more passive. Senior year, I was more confident taking those game-
deciding shots, or any big shots.”
Gould’s favorite sport, the one she will concentrate on at Millikin, is softball. She was a part-time starter as a freshman, took over at first base as a sophomore, then patrolled third base as a junior and senior. She loved every minute of it.
“The first game is the best feeling of the whole school year,” Gould said, “and the last game was the worst feeling of the whole school year. Sterling softball has been amazing to me. My coaches are fabulous. It just means the world to me to be part of such a great program.”
Gould was a force in the middle of the Golden Warriors’ lineup this past season, and helped the team a 27-4 record. She batted .485, had an on-base percentage of .545, and slugged .753. She also drove in 31 runs, scored 24, and socked six home runs.
“Each year her role changed a little bit, from being down in the lineup to maybe being the third or fourth batter,” Sterling coach Becki Edmondson said. “The thing that stands out to me about Gretchen is each year her stats were better and better. Sometimes you have one year where they peak, and then the next year they’re not [as high]. She’s such a student of the game, and that’s why she stood out to us.”
Gretchen had good role models when it came to athletics: her parents, Jeff and Brenda Gould, each were multi-sport athletes in Amboy.
Jeff played 4 years of football, 3 years of track and basketball, and 1 year of wrestling as a Clipper. He was a cornerback and safety on the state champion 1984 Amboy football team.
Brenda Etheridge competed in 4 years of volleyball and basketball for the Clippers. She was on the 1984 basketball team that advanced to the supersectional level – something no other AHS girls hoops team accomplished until this past winter.
Brenda noted she and her husband didn’t push Gretchen one way or another when it came to sports, with one exception. Much like she and Jeff each played multiple sports for the Clippers, Gretchen was going to do that as well for the Golden Warriors.
“The one thing Jeff and I both share is that we are true believers in playing multiple sports,” Brenda said. “We didn’t push them to focus on just one sport. We were told by some people that could hurt their possibilities in the future, but that was just our belief. Coming from a small town, you play as many sports as you can, help out in any way you can, and be competitive.”
Gretchen played on a youth soccer team that won a national tournament in Florida, and after taking youth tennis lessons at Kilgore Park in Sterling, briefly considered playing that sport in high school rather than volleyball. In the end, it was volleyball, basketball and softball that won out, and Gretchen wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I don’t think I would be where I’m at in all three sports if it weren’t for the other two complementing them,” Gretchen said. “Different parts in each sport prepared me for all the sports.”
Competing alongside Gretchen the past 3 years in high school was her younger sister, Grace. She plays the same three sports as her big sister.
Grace was a 5-9 outside hitter for Sterling in volleyball, and a ball-hawking guard on the basketball court, and she felt a camaraderie with her big sister on those courts.
“It was nice to play two very different positions in both sports,” Grace said, “and to be able to work off of each other. We knew each other better than anybody else did on the court. We used that to our advantage a lot.”
On the softball diamond, Grace played shortstop, and again, formed a formidable tandem with Gretchen at third base.
“It’s going to be weird next year, not having her by my side,” Gretchen said. “I could always count on her.”
That’s not to say it was always calm waters between the siblings.
“They’re sisters, and they argue like sisters,” Edmondson said. “We had a conversation – their parents were worried they might argue on the field during games, but we had a lot of fun with that.”
Grace noted whatever softball-related differences they had generally waited until they got in the car for the ride home.
“We held each other accountable,” Grace said. “That sometimes led to some disputes at home, but for the most part, it was for our own benefit.”
“I think we only said stuff because we expected more out of each other,” Gretchen added. “We knew what we could both do.”
Wherever and whenever a Sterling volleyball, basketball or softball game was being played, there would be a Gould and/or an Etheridge in the stands. It was something Gretchen did not take for granted.
“Even if I had a bad game, my grandpa would give me a high-five,” Gretchen said. “He’d say, ‘Good game,’ and I’d say, ‘Don’t talk about it.’ I appreciate them always being there. I appreciate my parents driving me at 5 a.m. to practice some mornings before I could drive. I appreciate them taking me to travel sports and allowing me that opportunity, because not everybody gets that opportunity.”
For Jeff Gould, it’s been a labor of love, providing his daughters the chance to play ball, and to watch them compete.
“Just watching these two play, it’s been a highlight,” Jeff said. “It’s always been my happy place to be at the games, so I try to make as many as I possibly could.”
Gretchen Gould plans to major in elementary education at Millikin University, with a goal of becoming a teacher and a coach. She plans to play only softball for the Big Blue.
That means year-round training – hitting in cages and fielding ground balls all winter, weight training multiple days a week – all in preparation to play 40 or so games each spring.
By concentrating on softball only, she is likely to up her game to a level she could only think about at Sterling. The question is, what could she have attained had she been just a softball player for the Golden Warriors?
She doesn’t know or care.
“I do not regret playing three sports,” Gretchen said. “I’ve had great experiences for all of them. I love the school I’m going to for college, but I wouldn’t want my high school career and what my potential college career is going to be any other way.”
High school: Sterling (2019 graduate)
FYI: 4-year, 3-sport (volleyball, basketball and softball) athlete for the Golden Warriors. … Helped teams to a combined 92-10 record in the 2018-19 school year. … Will play softball at Millikin University next spring.