High School Volleyball: Cole takes over Justin


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May 10, 2024

High School Volleyball: Cole takes over Justin

Gabrielle Cole, the new head coach of the Justin-Siena volleyball program, works out with a kettlebell. New Justin-Siena volleyball head coach Gabrielle Cole's twin daughters point to a photo of their

Gabrielle Cole, the new head coach of the Justin-Siena volleyball program, works out with a kettlebell.

New Justin-Siena volleyball head coach Gabrielle Cole's twin daughters point to a photo of their mother in the weight room at her UC Berkeley alma mater a couple of years ago.

During the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020, Gabrielle Cole was one of many who soul-searched and came away with a new purpose in life.

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“I made a life-changing decision to shift my career path,” said Cole, the new head coach of Justin-Siena High School’s volleyball program. “For 17 years, I was immersed in the world of corporate sales, working with prominent companies like Pfizer, Medline and Superhuman. However, I came to realize that I wanted a career that aligned more authentically with who I am and one that served a greater purpose.

“My guiding light, my North Star, is to empower young girls and help them evolve into unapologetically confident young women. I believe in encouraging them to pursue their aspirations fearlessly, even in the face of external expectations. Leading by example, I have chosen entrepreneurship as my means of making a difference.”

She started two businesses in 2020 as part of Amazon's Business Accelerator Program.

One was for the Doggy Bung, which she described as “the revolutionary interactive dog toy crafted from a wine bung. This innovative toy will keep any dog engaged and on its paws, providing endless entertainment and fun.” She said the toy is available online as well as at Milo and Friends, and the Market at Carneros Inn.

“Also in 2020, I created the MAZE Model as a powerful system to conquer challenges during my personal transformation journey,” she said. “MAZE stands for Mindset, Analyze, Zero In, and Execute — essential steps to achieve growth and success. Over the years, this system has evolved into an extraordinary product called the Be Bold Journal. It is a specialized mental skills training program designed to unlock peak performance both on and off the court. This year, the University of Arizona Volleyball Team and several local club volleyball teams will be utilizing the Be Bold Journal to elevate their game.

“Excitingly, our own team will also benefit from this empowering process, enabling us to reach new heights and conquer any challenges that come our way.”

Cole said her head coaches at Deer Valley High School in Antioch and at UC Berkeley inspired her to coach the way she does.

In high school, Cole was a three-time all-league selection and the 1999 Bay Valley Athletic League MVP. She was also a three-time All-Contra Costa Times selection and was ranked among the top 50 volleyball recruits in the nation by Student Sports magazine. As a senior, she helped lead her team to a 17-1 record.

“At Deer Valley, I had the privilege of being coached by Lou Panzella, and recently, I had the joy of reconnecting with him to discuss coaching, volleyball, life, and everything in between,” Cole said. “It’s an absolute treat to have someone in your life who has been there through different stages of your development.

“Let me tell you, Lou's influence on me was profound. He showed me that coaches are not just coaches on the court; they extend their guidance and support far beyond. The essential life skills that have shaped who I am today were honed on the volleyball court, and Lou played a pivotal role in teaching me and helping me apply those skills to every aspect of my life.”

In college, Cole was recognized as one of the top 100 players in the country, trying out for the U.S. National Team in 2001. She also helped lead the Golden Bears to the NCAA Regional semifinals in 2003.

“At Cal, I had the privilege of being coached by Rich Feller, and I was part of an incredible journey to build a program from the ground up,” she recalled. “Being a part of his first recruiting class in 2000 was an honor, and we, the 10 players in that class, had a mission to turn the program around. And you know what? We did it!

“Working with Rich was an absolute blast, and it was my first taste of what it truly takes to build something great. Rich's leadership and coaching prowess were instrumental in shaping our success. He instilled in us the belief that we could achieve great things together. His ability to implement a winning system and guide us towards the end goal was truly inspiring.”

“As a former Division 1 volleyball player, I understand the immense value athletics provides to our young athletes. They develop skills that will set them up for success on the court and beyond. I am thrilled at the opportunity to prepare our local athletes for elite performance in both sport and life."

Justin-Siena’s last two head coaches each won a Vine Valley Athletic League title in the second of her three seasons at the helm -- Kate Reilley in 2022 and her sister, Chelsea Reilley, in 2019.

“I am absolutely thrilled about coaching a program with such an impressive history of winning and tremendous potential for the coming years,” Cole said. “It's truly exciting to see that the team and the girls already have a solid foundational skill set. I applaud the hard work they have put in so far, and I am eager to pick up where they left off.

“Having a successful history sets the bar high, and it motivates me even more to lead this team towards continued success. With a team that has already achieved so much, I believe we have the potential to accomplish even greater things together. I am honored to be part of a program that has a winning tradition and a bright future ahead. As we move forward, I am enthusiastic about building upon the foundation that has been laid and working together to achieve new levels of greatness.

Cole said she learned from her own coaches that the job is about winning in life as well as on the volleyball court, and sustaining success year after year.

“I learned that coaching extends far beyond the court,” she said of Panzella at Deer Valley High. “He exemplified that coaches play a crucial role in shaping not only athletic skills but also life skills. This insight inspired me to incorporate life lessons into my coaching approach, emphasizing teamwork, leadership, and personal growth. Just like Lou, I strive to be a mentor and guide both on and off the court, fostering an environment where players can excel not just as athletes, but also as individuals.

“(At Cal), I gained a profound appreciation for building a system for success. Being part of his first recruiting class was a transformational experience. It taught me the importance of laying a solid foundation, implementing a strategic system, and setting clear goals for the team. These principles are now an integral part of my coaching philosophy. I focus on creating a repeatable process for success on the court and in the game of life, empowering players with the tools they need to achieve their full potential.”

She inherits from Kate Reilley a team looking to win its second VVAL title in three years, led by three seniors back for their fourth varsity seasons and a junior in her third year of varsity.

“The returning players and the incoming freshmen are absolutely amazing,” Cole said. “When I first met them and had summer workouts with them, I was genuinely impressed by their dedication and talent. The returning players showcased their passion and hard work on the court, while the incoming freshmen proved themselves to be real standouts, showing tremendous potential right from the start. It's truly inspiring to witness their commitment and the energetic spirit they bring to each practice and workout session. Their individual personalities shine through, making them a joy to coach. I am super impressed by the motivation and enthusiasm they all display.

“With such a fantastic group of players, both returning and incoming, we are going to have an extraordinary program all around this year. The future looks incredibly promising, and I am excited to see how they will continue to develop their skills and build strong team dynamics.”

Cole has been married for 12 years. Her husband, Jeff, grew up in Yountville and works as the winemaker at Sullivan Vineyards in Rutherford. They have 11-year-old identical twin daughters, Morgan and McKenna. Affectionately known as “M & M,” they have been passionately playing competitive club with Absolute Volleyball since they were 9.

“This year, we are embarking on a new adventure as we venture into the realm of homeschooling,” Cole said. “As Morgan and McKenna enter sixth grade, we are excited to embrace this educational journey together and create a learning environment that nurtures their growth and curiosity.”

Her varsity staff includes returning assistant coaches Kelly Van Winden and Lesley Giovanelli. Van Winden’s three-decades-plus career as a volleyball head coach has included stops at Sonoma State University, Napa Valley College and Napa High.

“To say that they bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the program is an understatement,” Cole said. “Kelly's background includes years of training and exposure to the game both on the beach and indoors, while Lesley's expertise lies in physical training. With their contributions, our program is undoubtedly set up for success.”

She is also pleased to have Matt DeFina back as freshman head coach.

“Matt has consistently done an outstanding job with the freshman team at Justin Siena year after year,” she said. “It's evident that he is not only skilled at what he does but also passionate about shaping our girls into fine young ladies through motivation and inspiration.”

She said on July 26 that the school was close to hiring a JV head coach who has more than 20 years of coaching experience in club and high school volleyball and is also a certified personal trainer.

“I consider myself extremely lucky to have such a dedicated and talented coaching staff by my side,” Cole said. “Each member brings unique skills and expertise that will undoubtedly elevate our team's performance and create a positive and nurturing environment for our players.”

“We’ve wasted no time in getting ready for the season. We've already kicked off with Summer Open Gym, Volleyball IQ sessions, and Skill Set Challenges, and the dedication and hard work from the team have been outstanding. As Bruce Lee wisely said, ‘Preparation for tomorrow is hard work today,’ and that's precisely the mindset we're instilling in our players. The commitment they've shown during the summer sessions sets the foundation for a successful season ahead.”

She said the Braves will start official practices Aug. 14.

“I can’t wait to see the team come together and build on the progress they've made during the summer,” she said.

These five stories are all about Napa Valley athletes who just signed with colleges to play their sports, or are already in college, most of them Division I. All had to overcome the hurdles of COVID-19, on top of what life already threw at them, to reach their goals of playing at the next level or keep playing there.

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