Southeast Missourian volleyball player of the year: Perryville's Natalie Gremaud

Friday, January 18, 2013
Perryville senior Natalie Gremaud helped the Pirates to a school record for wins and their first final four appearance. (Laura Simon)

Natalie Gremaud knew she wanted to give volleyball a try. So when all her friends started to form a team in the fifth grade, she was eager to join.

"I just fell in love with everything about it," Gremaud said. "It was so weird because it was an accomplishment to get the ball over the net just by bumping it, and how the game has changed. Every year I fell more in love with the sport and more in love with how it's such a team game. It's just awesome."

It's unlikely anyone on that first team thought that some day the same group of friends would help make history at Perryville when it led the Pirates to the school's first volleyball final four.

It's even less likely anyone imagined Gremaud would put together one of the most impressive seasons ever recorded by a Missouri high school player in the process, which made her an easy selection for Southeast Missourian player of the year.

"In basketball or in soccer you can touch the ball more than one time, but in volleyball you can't pass to yourself, set to yourself and hit to yourself," said Gremaud, expounding on the merits of volleyball as a team game. "Literally everybody has to play a role. You can't really rely on one person to do everything."

And yet somehow the Pirates did just that during Gremaud's senior season.

"She did everything for us," Perryville coach Dave Mirly said. "We actually would alter our serve-receive rotation so she would be back there passing, and then even when she was in the back row we would purposefully set her to get kills. I've never had a player that could just do everything so well for us."

The Perryville rotation was designed this season to take advantage of all of Gremaud's skills. She hit from the outside and middle, also blocking in the middle, all while in the front row, which isn't much of a surprise for a team's best offensive threat.

Gremaud, who at 5 foot 9 is sometimes several inches shorter than the girl on the other side of the net, served as the team's setter when she was in the back row, but with a rare twist. Because of her experience and proficiency as a serve-receive passer and her ability to produce kills in the back row, she passed serves in all three back row rotations before setting any subsequent possessions during the rally.

LAURA SIMON ~ lsimon@semissourian.com

"I was running everywhere on the court, but I loved it that I got to be a part of literally almost every play," Gremaud said.

Gremaud finished with 519 kills, which is the fourth most all-time in a season, according to the Missouri State High School Activities Association.

She added 210 assists, 216 digs, 78 blocks and 48 service aces, and her serve-receive rating also was higher than any other regular passer on the team.

"Natalie, up to this point, she has been the most complete player I've ever coached," Mirly said. "When you throw in everything about her -- her grades, her attitude, her work ethic, her talent, her skill ... when you lump that all together, she has just been a once-in-a-lifetime athlete for me up to this point.

"Hopefully I'll be able to coach more athletes like her. It's not like I've been doing this for a long time -- I've only been doing this for about 15 years now. But she's definitely had, when you add everything she's done and everything she is, she's been unbelievably the best player I've ever coached."

Gremaud's talent and skills usually are at the end of the list when Mirly talks about her.

"First of all, she works really hard," Mirly said. "She has a great work ethic and she does a lot of little things well. Little things like if there's volleyballs lying around to be shagged, she'll be the first one to help shag them. If the net's not put up or needs help putting up, she's the one there helping doing that. It's not like she's bossing people around, so she's has earned her players' and her teammates' respect just doing little things like that.

"And then she works so hard and she's so competitive. As a coach, I am very competitive, and if I can have one of my players also be very competitive as a captain then if I say something, she can be right there saying the exact same thing I'm saying, and it's making the team a lot better."

A team leader

Perryville’s Natalie Gremaud (3) celebrated a point with teammates during her junior season. Gremaud’s infectious enthusiasm and work ethic served her well as a team captain both her junior and senior seasons. (Southeast Missourian file)

Her leadership ability was strong enough that Mirly selected Gremaud as a captain for both her junior and senior seasons, making her the only underclassman he's ever given the title.

In order to be a captain at Perryville, a player must approach Mirly and ask for the job, which comes with a list of demands and privileges. Mirly holds captains accountable for the team members' action on the court and off. If a practice isn't going well, it's the captains' responsibility to fix the problem. If players get in an argument, it's up to a captain to fix the problem before reporting it to Mirly becomes necessary.

Captains are the only people on the team allowed to speak critically to a teammate, although they're not allowed to be mean. All others only are allowed to encourage.

"When he announced the captains, I was just so, so excited because it's such a big honor," Gremaud said about her selection as a junior. "It's not like, 'She's the best player, she gets captain.' It's not like that at all. You can be the worst player and still be captain, so I was just really excited that he gave that title to me because I knew I was going to give it justice, so I was really excited about that."

Gremaud plays with an enthusiasm that sometimes borders on hysteria as she celebrates between points during matches, and that is contagious.

"In practice she always makes us want to push ourselves harder, and when you have someone who cares so much about the sport it makes you want to push that much harder so you don't let them down," teammate Alex Spears said. "Just seeing how hard she pushes herself just rubs off and makes everyone want to push themselves that much harder."

That same enthusiasm is obvious to anyone watching in the stands.

"Natalie plays with so much emotion out there on the court and she's always positive," Mirly said. "She gets so excited that it's just so fun to watch her play, and the little girls, the younger ones who come watch her play -- they would see her getting excited and then her teammates would feed off that energy and her teammates would get excited over all the plays.

"It made playing volleyball so much fun for everyone on the team, and I really think everyone just saw how positive the team always stayed and how much fun they had. It's part of our program, but Natalie was the leader of all that. She's the one who really made that all happen because she understood how important it was. The other captains did a great job, too, but Natalie just took it to the extreme and just was always the perfect role model out there."

Although a few months have passed since the thrill of advancing to the final four and the disappointment of an eventual fourth-place finish, Gremaud started to tear up almost immediately when asked what she'd remember most about her senior season.

"Team. Family. That's the first thing," she said, looking away. "Especially since the summer, we have grown so much. Being at the sectional game [against Lutheran South], we're down 20-16 and their best hitter just rotated to the front row, so we're all looking at each other like, 'Oh my God, this could be it.' And then we realized, 'No. This isn't it.' So we all came together. That was just the most remarkable feeling that this little team can do such big things."

More volleyball ahead

Gremaud will continue her playing career at Mineral Area College. Although she's not yet sure where she'll play in college, she knows what she hopes younger Perryville players have learned from her.

"Never take anything for granted," she said. "Also to love the game -- don't wish away practice time because literally it goes by so fast, and you cherish those moments in practice. It's just ... I love it.

"Also when we were at state, we were the only team to take a set from [eventual state champion] Westminster, and that's a big thing. We also lost to Pleasant Hill, so I want them to realize that not only in volleyball but also in life, sometimes you don't get second chances, so you've got to make the most of them while you're there."

She can't help but bring up the pool-play loss to Pleasant Hill when just a split would have given the Pirates a chance to play for the state championship. It clearly still stings, but Gremaud isn't one to shy away from the game's painful moments. Instead, she lets those moments stick with her and teach her -- and make her better.

"I think they'll still have that yucky feeling that I still have from at state," Gremaud said. "When we went in practice last year it was 'Lutheran South beat us. They're not beating us again this year.' So that was our motivation for every practice, and this year I hope it's the same thing -- 'We're not letting Pleasant Hill beat us again. We're not going to state and getting fourth place.' I hope they have that motivation and drive to succeed like I do."

Click here to see the complete all-Missourian volleyball team.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: