Posted On: 11/19/14 7:16 PM

PAPILLION – Just 12 months ago, Papillion-LaVista sophomore Steph Gaston had finished her high school season on the junior varsity and was not on the 2013 state tournament roster for the Monarchs.

A year later, the 6-foot-5 right-side hitter played a prominent roll for the Monarchs in their 42-1 season and second-place finish in the Class A state tournament. She also has become the first member of Nebraska’s Class of 2017 to choose a college home, as she has given her verbal commitment to play at Creighton.

“The family-feel of the program, the academics, the size of the school, and the location close to home seemed like a perfect place for me. I could also tell that the school and students supported the program very well,” Gaston said. “Creighton has all of the things I am looking for in a college and volleyball program, plus more. I’ve heard many great things from players about the coaches and their program.”

Gaston first got on the radar of major college programs as a member of the Premier 15 Gold team last spring. She reached out to Creighton coach Kirsten Bernthal-Booth at the start of the club season and expresses her interest in the Bluejays. She said Booth and associate head coach Tom Mendoza watched her play a couple times during the club season, and then invited her to summer camps.

Gaston said she took an unofficial visit to Creighton on Oct. 20 of this year, at which time the Bluejays offered her. She had also received interest from several teams in the Big 10, Big 12, Big East and SEC. Ultimately, though, Gaston said Creighton impressed her with the direction the program is headed.

“I was really impressed with the players and recruits that I met at the camp, and I feel like we clicked well. Two of the 2015 recruits coming in are in the top 50 recruits on Prep Volleyball and are amazing athletes,” she said. “Coach Booth’s goal is to be in the Elite Eight – I can see how that is possible with the great players they have now and the recruits they are bringing in.”

The upcoming club season will be just the third for Gaston. She finished her sophomore season at Papillion-LaVista with 121 kills and 94 blocks in 43 matches. She had two kills and three blocks in the state championship match against Omaha Marian.

Gaston acknowledges that her development as a volleyball player has a ways to go, but if the success she has achieved in her first two years of the sport is any indication, she will grow into a dominant force quickly.

“I have been blessed to have good coaches and great teammates in both club and high school to help me with my development. It was a great experience this year playing with such talented girls and great leaders who I learned a lot from. They helped me improve my technique and my mental aspect of the game,” she said. “I look forward to continuing my growth in knowledge of the game and becoming the best player I can be.

“I think a big help was the strength and agility program at Xplosive Edge that I did. Gib Duval (of X-Edge) pushed me knowing that my goal was to play Division 1 volleyball and will continue to push me for the next few years. Since I’m just starting my third year of club, I know I have a ways to go, but I also know that my coaches, trainers, and teammates will keep challenging me to reach my potential.”

Creighton’s recruiting classes for the future are full of some of the top names in the nation. The Bluejays’ 2015 class includes Taryn Kloth, a 6-foot-4 outside hitter from Sioux Falls, S.D., and Jaali Winters, a 6-foot-2 OH/MB from Centennial on Ankeny, IA. Kloth is ranked as the #18 recruit in the nation by PrepVolleyball.com and Winters is #41. Creighton also is bringing in 6-foot-2 MB/OH Megan Ballenger -also from Ankeny, IA, and 5-foot-8 libero/DS Samantha Bohney from Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln.

Brittany Witt, a 5-foot-7 junior libero at Omaha Marian, is Creighton’s only 2016 recruit this far and Gaston is the lone recruit for 2017. Creighton is 22-7 this season and 15-1 in the Big East. The Bluejays have reached the NCAA Tournament three of the past four years, reaching the round of 32 in each of those three seasons.

Gaston said when she look ahead to her days at Creighton with that kind of talent, it’s very exciting. At the same time, she said there are many people who have played a key role in helping her get to that point.

“I would just like to stress how grateful I am to my coaches, trainers, club directors, and teammates for getting me to where I am today. And I would like to thank the coaches at Creighton for the wonderful opportunity,” she said. “Finally, how blessed I am to have my parents and family behind me. My parents drive me everywhere and get me involved in what I need to be successful.”