Gillis’ Volleyball Talent Will Be On Display At Worcester State

By KEN HAMWEY Staff Sports Writer
 Natalie Gillis  is the total package.
Issue Date: 
August, 2018
Article Body: 

Natalie Gillis and volleyball have been a dynamic partnership. And, the sport will continue to be a major part of her future as she prepares for a four-year career at Worcester State where she’ll major in health science.
The 18-year-old Ashland native has played the sport at a variety of levels and she’s excelled as an outside hitter in every venue. She was a three-time Tri Valley League all-star at Ashland High, competed for six years for two club teams and helped the Southeast squad to the 2017 title in the Bay State Games.
The 5-foot-8 Gillis was a captain for the Clockers, won the Coach’s Award and was selected as an all-scholastic by the Boston Globe, Boston Herald and Metrowest Daily News. Last year, she was an integral part of coach Jay Warren’s contingent, leading the Clockers to the Division 2 quarterfinals in tourney play and an overall record of 14-7.
Volunteering goes hand-in-hand with her skills on a volleyball court. She spent time at the Fairview Estates, an independent elderly home, supervising volleyball activities for the residents. She also assisted and coached prospective players for the Middle School team.
“I’m excited about the future and what will happen,’’ Gillis said. “I had a great experience playing at Ashland High and I’ll miss it. But, Worcester State is a new chapter that’s about to unfold. I love the school, its facilities and its academics. Last year, their team won the MASCAC championship (Mass. Small College Athletic Conference). The girls on that team were very welcoming when I toured the campus.’’
The Lancers won the recruiting battle for Gillis’ services. She could have played at Merrimack, Roger Williams, Westfield State or Keene State. All those schools liked her technical skills, work ethic, leaping ability and mental toughness. And, they all admired her statistics last fall — 237 kills, 139 digs and 17 aces.
Gillis didn’t confine her athletic endeavors solely to volleyball. She played midfield the last two years at Ashland for coach Jess Spencer’s lacrosse team. But, it’s volleyball that’s her passion and what defines her as a student-athlete.
“What I like about volleyball is its team-oriented nature,’’ said Gillis. “If one player is having a difficult time, it affects the entire team. That’s why communication is so important when competing. I also like the sport because its fast and requires an aggressive approach.’’
Matches against Hopkinton last year and Nipmuc her junior season are fond memories she has of her interscholastic days. “We lost to Hopkinton, 3-1, but it was the first time we won a game against them,’’ Gillis recalled. “In my junior year, we beat Nipmuc for our first win in a tournament. As for top thrills, all the awards and honors are nice and going to the playoffs three of four years was exciting, but it’s really the connections and memories I have of my teammates and friends that matter.’’
Gillis, who first started playing volleyball as a seven-grader, has a high regard for her teammates and her coach. “Abby O’Donnell was our other captain last fall and she played middle hitter,’’ Gillis noted. “She’s a smart player who’s supportive and motivating. Also, our libero, Sarah Labbe, was outstanding. She reads plays quickly and is very athletic. Coach Warren was very supportive during my four years. He’s a great coach who knows how to motivate players. He never gets down, always staying upbeat.’’
Warren is convinced Gillis’ future in volleyball will be bright. “Natalie is a solid player but she’s worked hard to sharpen her skills,’’ he emphasized. “She hasn’t reached her limits yet. She was a gymnast first and that’s made her strong. Natalie will excel in the future.’’
During her days as a gymnast, in the sixth grade, she suffered a heel injury and it developed into osteomyelitis (a bone infection that leads to a blood disorder). The condition forced Gillis to miss most of her school year, relying on a tutor for instruction. While at Children’s Hospital, she had first-hand experience with mobility-impaired children. She was impressed with the technology and medicine that was provided to help children and athletes return to normal lives. That’s why she’ll major in health sciences and focus on prosthetics.
Gillis will be the first to admit how life lessons can be learned in sports. The heel injury taught her how to overcome adversity early in her life. “There’s so many life lessons that sports teach,’’ she said. “I learned about leadership, accountability and responsibility. In sports, like life, you learn to be a team player and to be goal-oriented.’’
Gillis has always competed intensely and she’s relied on a philosophy that focuses on giving 100 percent and reaching one’s potential. “If you reach your peak effort, then winning usually follows,’’ she said.
Calling her parents (Christine and Lawrence) role models for their support and encouragement, Gillis will finish the summer adhering to a workout plan that involves strength and conditioning drills and running. And, when the fall arrives, Gillis no doubt will be ready to join the Worcester State volleyball team and play for coach Bernie Chase, who not only is a veteran coach, but one who’s very knowledgeable about the game and obviously a good recruiter.
Gillis should be a good fit at Worcester State for a variety of reasons — she’s intense, focused, skilled and tough-minded. And, don’t forget her compassion for others.