By Brendan Samuels

SHELBY – For most high school athletes, the fall season concludes in the early weeks of November. That’s not the case for Shelby junior Navea Gauthier however, as the volleyball court acts as a second home for her.

It all starts in August when Gauthier suits up for the Tigers. Last season, the 6-foot-2 middle hitter put up 936 kills, 498 digs, 133 aces and 58 blocks en route to an appearance in the state quarterfinals. With such a successful season behind her, Gauthier has nothing but high expectations for this fall.

“Shelby volleyball was good a couple of years before I got to high school, but I didn’t really know what to expect my freshman year,” Gauthier said. “We’ve made huge strides since then. We’re going to be just as strong if not stronger than we were last year. Losing in the quarterfinals woke a lot of girls up last year and we’ve had a lot of girls in the weight room this summer.

“Losing was a blessing in disguise. We’re even more hungry this year and we want to bring a state title back to Shelby.”

Photo/Brett Farmer

Wherever the Tigers end up this season, it’s obvious that Gauthier will be a large part of it. That won’t end the work that Gauthier puts in, though. In fact, the rest of her year is jam packed with volleyball in various forms.

Once Shelby’s season ends, Gauthier will take a few weeks off before she’s back in the gym with the Far Out Volleyball Club in Grand Rapids. During her time with Far Out, she’ll practice two days a week while spending another three days at SportHouse Athletic Center in Norton Shores. The last two days of the week should be a time for her to kick her feet up and enjoy the weekend, right?

Wrong. That’s when Gauthier hits the road for tournaments and sees the practice and workouts she’s put in, start to pay off.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Gauthier spends time with the USA National Team Development Program quarterly. While there, she gets the chance to compete with 50-75 of the top players in the country, as well as top coaches.

“(The USA National Team Development Program) taught me a lot, especially in the beginning,” Gauthier said. “I didn’t realize there were other girls like me out there. Working with them pushes me to be better because every point and every rep matters.”

All the work she puts in has paid off and that’s evident, not only in the numbers on the stat sheet, but in the offers she’s received from top colleges. Since middle school Gauthier has been watched by schools like University of Michigan and Michigan State University, but recently she made her verbal commitment to Ohio State University.

“I started building a relationship with Brian (Wright), who is one of the assistant coaches at Ohio State and someone that was with me at my first USA Team training. So, I’ve always had a relationship with him,” Gauthier said. “Then, I ended up going to a volleyball camp at OSU and they took us around their campus. I just fell in love with the girls, facilities and most of all, the culture they have there.”

While nobody can deny that OSU is a great athletic school, Gauthier received plenty of grief over her decision – all of it coming in good fun. After all, for an athlete raised in Michigan, picking the Buckeyes is like siding with the enemy.

Photo/Brett Farmer

“We can’t have contact with (college) coaches until June 15 heading into our junior year, but people I know would walk past me and say things like ‘go green, go white’ or ‘go blue,’” Gauthier laughed. “Deep down I had a soft spot for those colleges, but in the end, it was always going to be Ohio State.”

While Gauthier is verbally committed to the Buckeyes, she does have a few years before she can officially put pen to paper. With the college landscape seeing recruits jump ship so often, it’s worth noting that she’s not locked in by any means. 

Just don’t mention that to her.

“I’m 100 percent sure I’ll be at Ohio State,” Gauthier said. “The only time I’ve ever second guessed that is when I had to tell other schools that I’d made my decision. Even then, I knew that I was making the right choice.”

Shelby coach Tom Weirich with Gauthier during the 2023 quarterfinals, as Shelby battled Kalamazoo Central High School at Hudsonville Unity Christian High School. Photo/Brett Farmer