When Gabriella Palmeri is away from a volleyball court, she's a self-proclaimed "nerd-athlete" and proud of it.
One of Palmeri's crowning jewels of random knowledge is being able to spout off the names of all 44 U.S. presidents. An avid fan of Abraham Lincoln, she claims she was a fan before it was "cool to like Lincoln."
And, the St. Francis High School senior tends to listen to BBC and audio books in the car instead of blasting tunes.
Palmeri and best friend and teammate Loni Kreun even attempted to garden over the summer.
Palmeri is quirky, clever and very intelligent she has a 4.45 GPA and is considering majoring in history, law or criminal science at Pepperdine, where she'll play volleyball.
"I am getting into physics, and gravity is just blowing my mind right now," she said.
But Palmeri's gravity-defying leaps at the net for the CIF State Division I runner-up Troubadours are the reason she's the The Bee's 2012 Volleyball Player of the Year.
A two-year captain and 2011 first-team All-Metro selection, Palmeri played four seasons on St. Francis' varsity team. This season, the 6-foot-1 outside hitter led the team with 434 kills and used her long limbs to help the Troubadours (38-3) reach the state championship match last weekend.
"This was how, almost, I wanted my senior season to go," Palmeri said. "I couldn't ask for a (better) team, and to play with these girls for so many years I am really fortunate for this team."
Kreun has been by Palmeri's side all four years. They live less than a mile from each other in Davis and have commuted together since they were 13.
When Kreun, an honorable-mention All-Metro pick, went down with a sprained ankle during a Delta River League match against Folsom, Palmeri's dad took care of her in the emergency room and Palmeri was at her side.
"While I am waiting, Gaby comes and brings me food and chocolates," Kreun said. "It was really nice. It is going to be so weird not seeing her every day."
On the court, Palmeri was instrumental in giving reassurance to Kreun's replacements, Morgan Robledo and Noa Nightingale, as the captain and a friend, and St. Francis went undefeated in the DRL and won the Sac-Joaquin Section and NorCal D-I titles.
"She stepped up her game, but she encouraged and gave them the confidence that they could do it," St. Francis coach Alynn Wright said. "She was very positive through that whole process because they responded very well."
Aside from saying Palmeri is one of the top five players in her 24 years as coach at St. Francis, that leadership is why Wright will miss Palmeri as a person more than as the exceptional player she is.
"She is a great person and role model," Wright said. "Obviously, you can't replace a player like Gaby. But you can use her as a role model for others to strive to become. She set a tone for others to follow."
COACH OF THE YEAR
Coming into this season, skeptics questioned how good El Camino would be. The Eagles lost three-time first-team All-Metro selection Natalie Riddering, 2011 second-team pick Nicole Hareland and four other seniors from the 2011 Division II section championship team. But Martin Soyama, The Bee's 2012 Coach of the Year, brought together a young team, led by All-Metro first-team senior Cassidy Denny and second-team sophomores Devin Herenda and Mikaela Nocetti. The Eagles (35-6) went to the NorCal finals for the first time in school history. "When you graduate so many kids and you bring in a whole new group, you never really know how it is going to come together," said Soyama, who also was Coach of the Year in 2009. "But we could see we had potential. And when that potential comes to fruition, there is nothing more rewarding than that."
BEE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Gaby Palmeri, St. Francis, Sr.
The outside hitter had 434 kills to lead the Troubadours to a 38-3 record and a spot in the Division I state championship game.
Rio Americano, middle blocker, Sr.
The two-time first-team All-Metro selection was the leader of the Raiders, who handed El Camino its first league defeat since 2010.
Oakmont, outside hitter, Sr.
She was a driving force at the net and led the Vikings to a 3-2 comeback win in the Division III section final, the first such volleyball title in school history.
Granite Bay, setter, Jr.
A two-time co-MVP in the Sierra Foothill League, she led the Grizzlies to the NorCal D-I final.
El Camino, outside hitter, Sr.
The emotional, physical leader of the NorCal D-II finalist, she blossomed as a player and person.
Bella Vista, setter, Sr.
Arguably the best setter in the area with great court vision, she helped the 12th-seed Broncos advance to the D-II section semifinals.
Vista del Lago, outside hitter, Sr.
She became the leader for the Eagles; her strong presence at the net led Vista del Lago to the D-III section title match.
Bear River, outside hitter, Sr.
There wasn't a more imposing force in D-IV than this leader for the section-champion Bruins; she was third in the state in D-IV with 481 kills.
Nastassja Bowman Christian Brothers, setter, So.
Maddie Chambliss Oak Ridge, libero, Sr.
Maddie Graham Placer, middle blocker, Jr.
Devin Herenda El Camino, setter, So.
Ali Koumelis St. Francis, setter, Jr.
Demi Muses Casa Roble, middle blocker, Sr.
Maddy Deters Granite Bay, outside hitter, Jr.
Mikaela Nocetti El Camino, outside hitter, So.
Kelechi Ohiri Monterey Trail, middle blocker, Jr.
Allie Wegener St. Francis, outside hitter, Sr.
Lyndsay Chambers, Davis; Kiah Drongesen, Granite Bay; Kaya Johnson, Bear River; Loni Kreun, St. Francis; Morgan Lees, Del Oro; Hannah Liserra, St. Francis; Maddie Merlino, Rio Americano; Kyra Rogers, Oakmont; Shelby Sanders, Rocklin; Caroline Sipiora, Vista del Lago; Kyndra Trevino-Scott, Bella Vista.