St. Francis High School in Sacramento, California has always had a grand history of successful athletic programs. Virtually every sport features winning teams on all levels at the private Catholic school and volleyball is no exception. Head coach Alynn Wright has been at the helm for the past 23 years and has seen more than her share of winning seasons and standout players.
During Wright's tenure at St. Francis, the volleyball team has notched 16 league titles, 9 Sac Joaquin Section championships and a state crown in 2005. Various players have owned the spotlight for the Troubadours amidst those title runs. In 2011, the spotlight will shift in the direction of Gaby Palmeri.
Palmeri was a key freshman on the latest of St. Francis' 9 section-claiming teams in 2009 and helped her team reach the section title game again in 2010 as a sophomore. The Troubadours have compiled a 69-15 record in her first two seasons, including two perfect Delta River League campaigns, and has given St. Francis fans a reason to be exited about the next two.
"From the time I met Gaby, with her size and athleticism, I knew that she was going to be one of those special players," said Wright, who originally began coaching Palmeri as a seventh grader during a volleyball camp. "She's a very powerful hitter and she has a lot of gas in her tank. She does a really good job of hitting high and is becoming one of the best blockers in area. She can hit all shots on the court and she's really matured over the last two years."
"I've wanted to become more of a presence on the court and just try to be there for my teammates," said Palmeri, the 5'11 junior-to-be. "I think I've improved on leading with my voice over the past two years which is a huge part of this game."
Over the past two seasons, Palmeri has been a secondary option in the St. Francis offensive attack behind standout middle Zoe Nightingale. With Nightingale heading to UCLA this fall, Palmeri will likely be expected to play the role of leader. "Zoe's always been the one to get us points. What I've learned from her is how to really put the ball away and that's what I plan on doing for the rest of my career."
Wright is elated to have someone be able to step in and fill such large shoes.
"It hasn't really been (Palmeri's) role as a freshman and sophomore. It wasn't her time to lead just yet. Now it is," said Wright. "She's definitely a kid that leads by her play. She's one of the hardest workers in the gym and she's going to have a lot of that leadership responsibility placed upon her. We have some other girls doing well also but she's definitely one that everyone will look for to lead us."
Playing under such an influential coach and beside such talented teammates, Palmeri has begun to come into her own. She made giant leaps in every major statistical category from her freshman to her sophomore year. She jumped from a 15.9 hitting percentage to 25.9 (tops among DRL sophomores), her 68 digs climbed to 215 and 63 kills turned into 250 a year later—good for fourth among DRL hitters.
She also got bigger on the defensive end of the net, blocking more than twice as many shots in 2010 than she did in '09. The steady incline of all around improvements in her game earned her All-DRL honors as well as a place on the Sacramento All-Metro second team.
"It's definitely an honor to be recognized for all the hard work that I put into this sport. At the same time, I take it as this means that I have to continue to keep working hard to live up to what's expected of me," she said.
Since the 2010 high school season ended, Palmeri has been busy playing for her 16-under Northern California Volleyball Club team. She has led the team to a no. 1 seed for the upcoming Junior National Championships, where she, along with an all-star roster of talented 16-year-olds will have the opportunity to win a gold medal in Atlanta (July 1-4).