PELLA, Ia. — Taelor Rempe was born nine weeks premature in 1995. As a newborn, she fit in the palm of her father’s hand.
The volleyball she now cradles in her arms weighs about 10 ounces. Four of them outweigh her birth weight of 2 pounds, 6 ounces.
Rempe, that little miracle that survived breathing difficulties and other problems, has grown to become a fiery, fiesty libero for Pella High School’s volleyball team.
“I think it makes me more motivated to pursue my dreams,” said Rempe, a junior who averages 4.6 digs per set.
Rempe now stands 5-foot-4. She’s not the tallest player on the court, but runs, tumbles and dives like her teammates.
She overcame obstacles when she was young. Now she plays with passion that in part was inspired by the tough times.
“She definitely sets the tone for our defense,” Pella coach Catie Brand said. “She has a tendency to get to the balls other players don’t get to.”
Taelor and her twin brother, Austen, were born in Des Moines to Mark and Lori Rempe.
The kids, the second set of twins in the family, arrived with a battery of physical problems shared by other early arrivals.
Taelor weighed 2 1/2 pounds, Austen a tender 2 pounds, 2 ounces.
The newborns spent months in a hospital before they returned home. A live-in nurse helped take care of the babies. The family kept a spotless home so the children’s underdeveloped lungs would be less prone to illness.
Taelor and Austen were held back a year from school while they adjusted.
Both of Taelor’s older sisters, twins Kelsi and Karissa, also pursued sports. The girls ended up as college athletes: Karissa played golf, Kelsi volleyball.
Taelor started out as a gymnast, but switched sports. Kelsi helped turn Taelor into a volleyball player. She practiced with her little sister, relentlessly smacking the ball over the net at her.
“She would hit it really hard and never ease up on me at all,” Taelor said. “I was like, ‘I want to play volleyball in high school.’ I began to like it more and more.”
Taelor is one of the smallest players on the team, but has the spirit of a middle hitter.
“I really wanted to be a hitter,” Taelor said. “Kelsi was like, ‘You can’t do that, Taelor.’ ”
Instead, she became a defensive standout. She’s in her second season of starting at libero.
Small body, big attitude.
“I think she has the drive to really want to excel,” Brand said. “If the gym’s open, Taelor’s going to be there. I think that gives a testament to that survivor mentality.”
Rempe, who has a 3.8 grade-point average, said she wants to give back. She said she plans on being a neonatal intensive care unit nurse someday.
Pat Grace’s running skills made him a dual threat at quarterback.
The former Sioux City Heelan athlete earned Des Moines Sunday Register all-state honors in 2004. He passed for 1,870 yards and 20 touchdowns that season while rushing for 479 yards and 10 more scores while leading Heelan to the state playoffs.
In his high school career, he passed for 31 touchdowns and ran for 17 more.
That football versatility helped him succeed at Northern Iowa, too. He was a two-year starter, compiling more than 1,000 yards rushing and 4,300 yards passing.
As a senior, he passed for 2,280 yards and 20 touchdowns. Grace now lives in the Sioux City area and is an assistant at Heelan.
IOWA CITY WEST IN PRIME TIME: West’s volleyball team lost its setter a year ago when Caroline Found was killed in a moped accident just before the season started. Yet Found helped inspire a team that went on to win the Class 4-A state title, as students wore “Live Like Line” T-shirts in the crowd. HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel will air a segment on the team on Tuesday. The reporter on the segment is Frank Deford.
RERUN: Seven cross country state-qualifying meets that were postponed because of weather on Thursday were rescheduled for Monday: At Atlantic (3-A, 1-A), Columbus Junction (2-A), Gilbert (2-A), Panorama of Panora (2-A), Pekin of Packwood (1-A), Ridge View of Holstein (2-A, 1-A) and Spencer (3-A). The state boys’ and girls’ meets will be Saturday at Kennedy Park in Fort Dodge.
Opening competition dates, winter sports:
— Girls’ basketball: Nov. 16
— Bowling: Nov. 19
— Boys’ swimming: Nov. 20
— Boys’ basketball: Nov. 26
— Wrestling: Nov. 26
Prep web extras
READY FOR THE PLAYOFFS? Join Register high school sportswriters for an online chat at 8 p.m. Tuesday. Log on to DesMoinesRegister.com.
STATE TITLES DATABASE: How many state volleyball titles have the Ankeny girls won? When did Harlan win its first state football championship? Has Western Dubuque of Epworth ever won a boys’ basketball state crown? Find the answers and more at DesMoinesRegister.com/statetitles, a searchable database of every team championship in Iowa high school history. You can search by school, county or sport.