Jonah Gilbert may have lost his junior season with the Hilliard Bradley boys volleyball team, but he's still facing high caliber competition in his backyard.
The spring sports season was canceled April 20 by the OHSAA because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, but the Jaguars' standout has been staying in shape for the coming club season by going up against his brother.
Jackson Gilbert, a 2016 Bradley graduate, just graduated from North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina, where he played on the men's volleyball team. At 6-foot-7, 280 pounds, he is a formidable workout opponent for Jonah.
"I'm 6-5, so Jackson has been good to work out against," said Jonah Gilbert, who weighs 180 pounds. "We have a grass volleyball net in our backyard, so we have been going at it."
Gilbert received news May 4 that helped to ease the loss of his high school season: He was named to the 2020 U.S. Boys Youth National Training Team for birth years 2003-04. He is scheduled to train with the team Aug. 23-Sept. 1 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Before that, Gilbert is scheduled to compete in the USA Volleyball Boys Junior National Championship from June 27-July 4 in Reno, Nevada. According to USA Volleyball's website, as of May 8, the event is slated to go on as planned.
"I was part of a younger version of the Youth Nationals (USAV A1 Select Division) last year and it's great to do that because you're one of the top 24 players in the country at your age group," Gilbert said. "We will go there after the club nationals, which ends on the Fourth of July. (At Colorado Springs,) we'll play against state teams like with the top players from Ohio or Florida or California that aren't on the national team."
Gilbert is a right-side hitter on his club and national teams, but is an outside hitter for Bradley.
"Usually right-side hitters are left-handers, but I play that as a right-hander," he said. "Right-handers can play it if they are good jumpers and they swing better on that side of the court and have a good cross-body swing. If you are a right-hander and finish on the left side of your body, it makes sense to be on the right-side. I have that cross-body swing."
Last spring, Gilbert was named honorable mention all-state and first-team all-region in Division I as well as all-league, as the Jaguars went 15-7 overall and placed third in the OCC-Cardinal Division at 10-4 behind Darby (14-0) and Dublin Jerome (11-3). He totaled 570 kills (7.5 per game) and added 97 blocks and 35 aces.
"For me, it's just Jonah's court vision and being able to see everything that sets him apart," Bradley coach Zach Franklin said. "Over the years, we have had a variety of all-state players and Jonah is by far the hardest kid I have ever had to block in practice. I blocked him only once last year, which is pretty good for being a sophomore then.
"He always has been an offensive player, and he really has improved his defense and passing. He worked on that in the offseason and in club over the past year. One thing he could improve on is his communication with the team. He has to wholeheartedly be the leader and not just be the best player. He will need to lead with his voice."
Gilbert said he also needs to improve in other areas before playing at the college level. His list of potential destinations includes Penn State, Pepperdine, Stanford and Southern California.
"My game is inconsistent," he said. "One minute I will do something really good, and next play I will hit it 30 feet out of bounds. I just have to keep playing as much as possible.
"That hasn't been easy (with the pandemic), but I play with my brother. I have to keep busy and I have been watching a lot of film, not just my own, but players I would like to model my game after. I have been watching a lot of the U.S. National team."