COLUMBIA - Inspired by professional beach volleyball, Brittney Brimmage decided to start playing volleyball in middle school.
"I was like, ‘Oh, I'm going to be good, just like her (the players she had seen),'" Brimmage said. "But I wasn't good. So I didn't start until I got to high school my freshman year. And I was awful. Like, literally, awful."
The Missouri volleyball team opened its Big 12 Conference schedule with a loss at Oklahoma on Wednesday night. The Tigers won the first game 25-22, but then dropped the next three 22-25, 15-25, 21-25.
Sophomore Julianna Klein led the Tigers with 16 kills, sophomore Caitlyn Vann had career-high 33 digs, while junior Lei Wang had 33 assists, a season-high 22 digs and a team-high four blocks. Freshman Priscilla Armendariz contributed with a season-high 19 digs and fellow freshman Annie Lopez had two aces.
The Tigers (5-5, 0-1 in Big 12) have their home opener at 1 p.m. Sunday against Baylor.
She thought about giving up the sport, but decided against it.
"I'm not a quitter, so I just stuck with it," she said. "I tried to get my coaches to cut me, I tried to be even worse. But they were like, ‘No Brittney, you have potential, so you're staying.' So, I stuck with it."
Brimmage's mother required her to play sports every season. And her older sister playing on the volleyball team served as motivation.
"She was good at volleyball, she started in middle school," Brimmage said. "I was like, ‘OK, well if she's good, I'm going to be better than her.'"
Brimmage is a freshman outside hitter and middle blocker for MU.
During her junior year in high school, her interest in volleyball grew during an away match when she faced a particularly difficult opponent.
"She was blocking all of my balls until I got to the point where I couldn't take it anymore," Brimmage said. "And I was just smashing it. And I was like, ‘Yes, oh,...sticking with volleyball.'"
Brimmage said her high school teammates helped her through that match.
"My team got me motivated, like, ‘Brittney it's OK. She's blocking your balls, but just stuff them next time.' So, that's what I did."
Brimmage never faced that opponent again. But her new appreciation for volleyball led her to choose college volleyball. She found the sport to be more team-oriented than track.
"I just love the game more than... just track," she said. "I just love being with the team. It's a team thing versus track is like individual. I want to celebrate my winnings with the team, not just individually."
It wasn't until Brimmage's senior year when MU coach Wayne Kreklow got a call from Trish Kissiar-Knight, the coach at Missouri State University-West Plains, a junior college in West Plains.
"She was at a high school tournament and saw East St. Louis play and said, ‘Hey, they got a couple girls you guys really need to take a look at,' and kind of described her to us," Kreklow said. "As soon as we got back. the next opportunity and watched her play, and thought we have someone here that's just a great athlete that's got all the tools to be a really great volleyball player."
Unlike the vast majority of recruits, Brimmage had not played any club volleyball. She hadn't received the recruiting exposure that a lot of club recruits had received.
"There were some schools that were on to her a little bit that had seen her play in high school," Kreklow said. "But for the most part, not a lot of people really knew about her. So, from our standpoint it was a good break for us. Because I think she would have been somebody obviously, that I think would have been attracting a lot of attention from a lot of people."
Brimmage has played in every match this season for the 5-5 Tigers. She said she has caught herself looking at the rankings before matches. The team has faced No. 21 Pepperdine and No. 24 BYU. But the rest of the matches have been against unranked opponents.
"The teams that weren't ranked, they were tough too," she said. "But I was like, ‘They're not ranked, so we can beat them.' But evidently, it didn't come out that way."
When the team played in a tournament at Maryland, junior Megan Wilson roomed with Brimmage.
"When she first got here, she was really quiet," Wilson said. "I got to know her really, really well. She's developed into like a personality on our team that's just goofy, fun, sarcastic, just kind of an ‘out there' girl in her thinking. But it's not in a bad way, it's a crazy fun way that brings a whole new perspective to our team that's really fun."