Erin Gillcrist endures position change during unusual senior year 


Sam Mayo

Then-junior outside hitter Erin Gillcrist gets the ball over the net in the Aztecs’ 3-1 win over Air Force on Nov. 14, 2019 at Peterson Gym.

by Breven Honda, Senior Staff Writer

San Diego State volleyball senior Erin Gillcrist came to SDSU in 2017 as a middle blocker. 

However, in her first three seasons, she played outside hitter and moved to right side hitter.

Until this season, the 6-foot-1 senior had not played middle blocker since her high school days.

“I was actually recruited here as a middle (blocker) from high school, but I believe that last time before this year I played middle was my junior year of high school before I blew my knee out,” Gillcrist told The Daily Aztec. “So it had been like five years since I played in a game.”

With a new head coach and a new scheme for the middle blockers this spring, Gillcrist was put into a role that she had not played regularly in half of a decade. 

Head coach Brent Hilliard said learning a new position like middle blocker is similar to a quarterback who has the skills but needs to learn the playbook. 

“It takes anybody a while to really perfect that position,” Hilliard said. “Even though she’s athletically gifted and can play it without any problems, to get the nuances of it, you really have to play with it for a period of time.”

Despite being athletically gifted, Gillcrist had gone through three surgeries in her first three years at SDSU. 

However, Hilliard praised the 6-foot-1 senior for the durability she showed throughout the 2021 season while improving. 

“She played middle (blocker) for us almost the entire year and she adapted, did a great job and I couldn’t be more proud of her,” Hilliard said. 

All of this happened while junior middle blocker Andrea Walker was sidelined with an injury, but as the 16-game conference schedule progressed, Gillcrist continued to get better at middle blocker. 

“She’s coming into her own and really starting to own that middle blocking spot,” Hilliard said. “You could tell with each game, towards the back end, she had a really great game against Boise State, at Boise, so she was really starting to understand that position a lot better and really excel.”

Then, it was time for Gillcrist to play her last match inside Peterson Gym against a team that she had never defeated during her four years on the Mesa: Colorado State, a team that has won the Mountain West Conference regular-season championship in 10 of the last 12 seasons. 

Gillcrist, who is from Lakewood, Colo., just outside of Denver, was able to put up one of the best games of her short career at the middle blocker position by doing it from all over the court. 

She put up five digs, six kills and six blocks, including a solo block in a three-set sweep over the Rams on April 3. 

Gillcrist said it felt like the best ending to a story to finish her time at SDSU and beat a team from her hometown state.

“I was stoked,” Gillcrist said. “That was the first time I beat Colorado State in my four-year career here. As a native Coloradan, it was satisfying to kind of come full circle and beat them in my last game. That was awesome.” 

As a result of her performance, Gillcrist received MWC Defensive Player of the Week honors, the second for SDSU this season (senior libero Lauren Lee received the honor two weeks prior).  

Gillcrist said she was excited to receive the award as it showed the work she put in all season.

“That was my first one of my career, so I was happy to be able to end on a high note with the senior game,” Gillcrist said. “It was credit to that past week in practice where we were all pushing each other really hard, coach pushed me really hard and my teammates pushed me really hard to get better as a blocker. 

“I honestly wouldn’t have thought I would’ve gotten a Defensive Player of the Week award because that’s what I was struggling the most at the beginning of the season. It felt good to know the hard work of learning how to be a better middle blocker really came full circle this season because it definitely was a skill that I was definitely struggling with the most.”  

She talked with the others seniors — Lee, middle blocker Abby Pugh and setter Camryn Machado — about how much the victory means to them as they end their Aztec careers.

“I think that was exactly the way we all hoped to end,” Gillcrist said. “It can be hard with a season that was so up and down and so different, but we ultimately were talking before the game and we wanted to go out on a high note and go out leaving the program with something to be proud of. I think there was no better way for us to do that than beating Colorado State.”

However, she was not only thinking about the win nor the conference honor.

That has been the type of mentality Gillcrist has had. 

Gillcrist said to finish the season winning three of the last four and the last victory to give SDSU a 5-4 record at Peterson Gym bodes well for the program in the years to come, despite all the change over the past 15 months.

“Going into the next few seasons, as a young team that is starting a new era of volleyball here, it’s great that there is a pride in playing on the home court and we can get wins on the home court,” Gillcrist said.