Cal Poly Women's Basketball Senior Spotlight: Gabby Grupalo

Cal Poly Women's Basketball Senior Spotlight: Gabby Grupalo

Toward the end of the summer of 2016, Gabby Grupalo and the rest of the Cal Poly women's basketball team gathered for a meeting upstairs in Mott Athletics Center.

As Grupalo was surrounded by her teammates, Mustang head coach Faith Mimnaugh made an announcement: the guard from Walnut Creek — who came to Cal Poly as a preferred walk-on two years earlier — was being awarded a scholarship.

"It was just the best feeling ever," Grupalo recalls. "It was a goal I had been working towards for two years, and it felt like all my hard work was paying off."

For Mimnaugh and the Cal Poly coaching staff, however, it wasn't an unexpected progression. Although the Mustangs didn't have another scholarship to give upon first seeing Grupalo, they recognized her potential early on.

At Carondelet High School in Concord, she earned All-East Bay League First Team honors after averaging 10.5 points captaining the Cougars to the quarterfinals of the overall 2014 CIF State Tournament.

"You could tell the impact she was going to be able to make," Mimnaugh says, remembering how excited she was to award Grupalo the scholarship. "She puts the time and work in and had the natural ability, so we've been really fortunate to have her. She's been nothing but a gem for us."

Grupalo has become one of the top backups throughout the conference, usually leading the Mustang bench and often playing starter-level minutes.

One such performance came on Jan. 9, 2016 at UC Irvine, when she subbed in with 5:22 remaining in the first quarter. She almost played the entirety of the rest of the game from there, checking in again 2:14 into the second half — finishing with 25 points to lead all scorers in 31 minutes during a 72-54 win.

"Coach Faith has tried starting me a couple times," Grupalo says, "but we both feel that I play a lot better coming off of the bench — so I take a lot of pride in that role. My goal every game is, when I come in, I want to provide that spark. And when I'm on the bench I try to get everyone's energy up."

Before heading to the scorer's table, Grupalo observes, using the time as an opportunity to glean a sense of the game she's about to enter.

"Just watching the game for a few minutes, hearing coaches make comments like 'When you go in, attack there,' or 'Make sure this person isn't getting a baseline drive,' I think is a huge advantage to have coming off the bench," Grupalo says. "While I am sitting there, I try to make sure when I go in I can make those little adjustments that we need."

As a junior in 2016-17, she was consistently the first player off the bench, averaging 4.3 points playing all 29 games, plus 1.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 0.6 steals in 15.9 minutes per game.

She shot .786 (22-of-28) from the free-throw line a year ago, third-best on the team while helping Cal Poly set a single-season school record for accuracy (.752). Her 19 3-pointers as a junior also were a team-high.

All the while, Grupalo — a Graphic Communications major — made the Big West Conference Commissioner's Academic Honors List last March.

"Time management is key, and I spend a lot of time in the library," she said of balancing sports and studies. "(GRC)'s a major where you can be really creative, and it's really fun and exciting for me."

After graduating in June, she wants to potentially work in a field that would combine visual creativity (perhaps in web design) with being active or the outdoors.

Until then, though, she'll continue to be vital to the Mustang backcourt.

"She's also really valuable in the fact that she can play the 1, the 2, or sometimes even the 3 for us," Mimnaugh added, characterizing Grupalo as a sparkplug.

"Obviously, she has an ability to score; she's got the ball-handling skills and speed with the basketball," Mimnaugh said. "And whether it's defense or rebounding, she's constantly earning hustle points for us all over the court. She gets the game and she's a joy to coach."

By Donovan Aird
Photos © Alexander Bohlen and Matt Aguirre

Mustang seniors will be featured on throughout the season. After completing a five-game road trip, Cal Poly will conclude the calendar year returning home to host CSU Bakersfield on Friday, Dec. 29 (also Mustang Kids Club Night). Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. in Mott Athletics Center.