All In (Volleyball)

Annie Martin

Gardner might refer to a “gardener” in Germany, but in the Midwest, it’s synonymous with Big Ten volleyball.

Senior libero Christie Gardner, the fourth and final sister of the Big Ten’s biggest volleyball family, is making sure her clan goes out with a bang. Not only is she on track to play in every single game of her college career, she holds Northwestern’s single-season dig record and is ranked sixth in the Big Ten for digs.

Gardner, who started playing competitive club volleyball in the fifth grade, said she probably wouldn’t have gotten into the sport if it hadn’t been for her mom and older sisters.

“They’ve been my role models since I was little,” she said. “My mom was a high school volleyball coach so she got us all into volleyball, and I followed in their footsteps – whatever sports they played, I played. They all geared towards volleyball, so I did the same.”

Christie’s oldest sister, Jamie, played for Wisconsin from 1997-2000. Laurie, who is a year younger than Jamie, played for Indiana and Korie followed Jamie to Wisconsin two years later. Christie faced Korie for two seasons and said playing against her sister was more about enjoying the competition than about rivalry.

“I really didn’t notice that much. It wasn’t as intense as people thought,” she said. “She was good, so it was more fun than it was nerve-wracking.”

Gardner’s mom coached her for one year in high school and credits her and her sisters’ success to their mom’s influence.

“She definitely gave us our competitive spirit,” Gardner said. “Both our parents are very competitive. She was definitely hard on us. She had to be because we were her daughters and she didn’t want people to think she treated us any differently.”

There’s another trend the Gardner’s seem to follow: three of the sisters were outside hitters in high school and then switched to defense at the college level. Laurie is the exception – she played setter all through high school and college.

“I’ve always loved playing defense, and it kind of came naturally because I got to play defense more than when I was playing front row,” Christie Gardner said. “I miss playing front row; it’s the exciting part about the game. But I love playing libero. It’s a great position because it allows defensive specialists to play defense a lot more in the back row.”

NU coach Keylor Chan said Gardner’s personal success with the Wildcats stems from her own abilities and her family’s accomplishments.

“I think Christie’s heritage is a huge thing for us” he said. “People know the Gardner’s, and they know that Christie was a really good club player. She participated in our glory years when we made the (NCAA) tournament back-to-back years. In that regard, I think Christie wants to leave on a really great note, knowing that she really contributed to the standard here.”

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