It could have been very easy for the average volleyball fan to overlook Laura Paul on the Southwest Missouri State University-West Plains (Missouri State University-West Plains) Lady Grizzly teams of 1997 and 1998. The 5-10 setter/hitter from Ballwin, Mo., was so smooth in her play, one almost didn’t notice her. But that was the beauty of Paul’s game, according to Lady Grizzly Head Coach Trish Kissiar-Knight. “Her smoothness as a player is what stands out to me when I think of Laura. She had a gracefullness about her when she played. She flowed with the game. She played effortlessly. You almost didn’t notice her because she was so smooth, but everyone could tell she was a good player,” the coach recalled.
Paul came to the Lady Grizzly program in 1997 after playing four years at Parkway West High School in Ballwin, where she helped lead her team to the conference championship in 1995 and the conference co-championship in 1996. While there, she earned all-conference and all-district honors for her efforts.
Paul’s addition to the Lady Grizzly squad allowed Knight to add to her team’s bag of tricks. Because of Paul’s abilities, the Lady Grizzlies were able to run a 6-2 offense, something their opponents had not seen from Missouri State University-West Plains. This addition quickly made an impact on the team, as it helped Missouri State University-West Plains post a 41-8 record, earn three tournament championships, pick up victories over 13 of 16 opponents who were either ranked or mentioned in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) poll, and finish in the top ten of the final NJCAA poll during the 1997 season.
By her sophomore year, Paul had stepped into the role of team leader and had become a player Knight counted on game in and game out. Her confidence in that role showed during a September 10 game against East Central College when she recorded 13 service points. A great performance during the Physical Therapy Specialists Clinics Tournament of Champions in September earned her all-tournament team honors, and her leadership during tough matches in the Comet Cleaners Classic and the KSPQ Classic Hits Tournament in October gave her the most valuable player awards for those events.
By the end of the season, Paul had helped lead the Lady Grizzlies to a 46-11-1 record (a new school record for most wins in a season), four tournament titles (most in school history for a single season), and another top ten finish in the NJCAA national poll. But the most thrilling accomplishment of the season belonged to her, as she became the first Lady Grizzly named first-team All-American by the NJCAA.
Paul’s efforts on the court are still reflected in the Lady Grizzly record books. She’s fifth in career service aces with 88, seventh in career assists with 1,290, eighth in career attacking percentage with .316, and tenth in career service points with 511. She’s also tenth in assists for a single season with 663, which she recorded during the 1998 season. “Laura could do everything,” Knight said. “She was a great setter with a quick arm. She was talented all the way around. She did a great job for us.”
Following her graduation from Missouri State University-West Plains in May 1999, Paul took her skills and talents to the University of Tennessee-Knoxville on a full scholarship. During her two years there, Paul averaged 3.72 assists per game her junior season and 1.83 digs per game her senior season. She also earned Southeastern Conference All-Academic Team accolades and was inducted into the Golden Key National Honor Society and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. In addition, Paul frequently served as a host for volleyball recruits. A fractured wrist during practice on November 8, 2000, ended her competitive playing career.
Paul graduated from the University of Tennessee School of Business on May 11, 2002, and returned to her hometown where she is currently employed by IFC Enterprises, an Internet marketing and sales company.
Although she has moved forward with her life, Paul fondly remembers her time at Missouri State University-West Plains and the opportunities it provided, and she’s very honored to have been selected to the Grizzly Athletics Hall of Fame. She credits her time at Missouri State University-West Plains for making her a better player and helping her earn a full scholarship to a Division I school. “I never expected to play for a Division I program. I had always hoped I would. That was my goal. Missouri State University-West Plains made that possible,” she said.
“I also loved my teammates (at Missouri State University-West Plains),” Paul added. “To this day, we still keep in touch. At first, I thought Missouri State University-West Plains was very small, but that’s one of the things I liked most about it when I left. My teammates and I became a lot closer because of it.”