Gallipolis is a small village less than an hour’s drive from Athens that is home to approximately 3,700 people. Its history runs deep like the Ohio River that flows through the back of the town. Many have lived in and passed through the village, but only few hold a connection to it like Ashton Webb. It’s where she started, and it's where she returned to rebuild her relationship with volleyball.
Webb began her career playing for Southern United Volleyball Club in Gallipolis before transitioning to Zenith Volleyball in Columbus during high school. She drove from Gallipolis to Columbus two to three times a week for practices and matches. However, Webb realized during her junior year this travel wasn’t economical, so she returned to play in her hometown after she committed to Ohio.
Despite her proximity to campus, Webb didn’t visit Ohio during her recruitment search. Instead, she was determined to go to a school far from home to play volleyball. However, Webb’s mother encouraged her to attend a camp hosted by Ohio.
“She had already paid for it, so I was like ‘OK, I’ll go,’“ Webb said.
Webb fell in love with Ohio’s campus the moment she arrived. Even though she had never spoken to the coaching staff before, it was the people, the scenery and the culture that drove Webb to commit to Ohio three days after the camp. She was eager to spend her collegiate career in Athens.
She arrived on campus in 2019 to practice with the Bobcats. As the days went on, Webb began to realize college volleyball was completely different from what she was used to.
“The role I had in high school or in club was completely different than what I was going to have here,” Webb said.
In high school, Webb was an intense hitter. She was the first athlete in Gallia Academy history to reach 1,000 kills and is the current record holder for most kills in a season. But Ohio already had several intense arms on the roster who were more experienced than her. Webb needed to adjust her playing style in order to fit her new role.
Webb began to mold herself into what the Bobcats needed. Her dedication to expanding her horizons and honing her craft grew with each practice. Webb knew she was not up to par with some of her teammates, but she took it in stride. Her diligence paid off, and Webb appeared in three matches during her freshman season.
Despite her growth, Webb elected to take her sophomore season off and step back from the Bobcats. She returned to Gallipolis to find the sense of self she felt was slipping through her fingers. Webb wanted to reflect on who she was and what she wanted to be for her team before returning to the court for another season.
“Coming from such a small town, nothing really prepares you for what Division I volleyball is going to be like,” Webb said.
Webb spent her time back home surrounded by her family and friends but still remained connected to volleyball. She remained close to the sport by coaching a club team of grade schoolers.
Coaching opened Webb’s eyes to a different side of volleyball she hadn’t experienced before. She saw volleyball in a new light and realized there’s more to the sport beyond what’s seen on the court.
It also helped Webb mend her relationship with failure, which she had been struggling with since her first day at Ohio. The junior said her feeling of failure stemmed from the lack of playing time during her freshman year that she wasn’t used to. Coaching opened Webb’s eyes to the ways of spinning that feeling into positive growth.
Webb grew with the players she mentored and ended her year off with a sense of rejuvenation. She felt she was ready to return to the Bobcats.
“When I went home and I decided I was coming back,“ Webb said. “I knew exactly who I wanted to be, what I was going to do and exactly what I wanted to do for the team in general.”
Her new mentality can be seen in the way Webb plays on the court. She exudes confidence in her own abilities, and Webb recently recorded a career-high five service aces against Kent State on Oct. 20.
Webb’s time away from the court showed her how to use her passion for power. The overwhelming feeling that rushes through her body when she stands on The Convo floor is no longer one of fear. Instead, she surges with self-assurance. Webb feels secure in her role as a connecting piece and communicator for the Bobcats.
Volleyball means the world to Webb, and she didn’t understand how influential it had been on her life until she stepped away from it.
“(That) semester off really showed me how much it means to me and how much it’s taught me,” Webb said. “It’s a really good stepping stone into my life and what it's going to do for me in the future.”
Returning to Gallipolis reignited a fire in Webb. She realized volleyball is more than what occurs on the court, and there are many ways to show success beyond statistics. She doesn’t set statistical goals for herself. For Webb, her lone goal is to be the best version of herself for her teammates.
“It’s not always about the role you have, it's about the difference you are making,” Webb said.