COLUMBIA — Of the 24 athletes playing varsity volleyball for Columbia high schools this season, eight are seniors, 12 are juniors, and three are sophomores.
Hickman vs. Rock Bridge
WHEN: 6 p.m.
WHERE: Hearnes Center
And Rock Bridge has Nici Thaler.
The ninth-grader, in her final year at Jefferson Junior High School, has been successful playing for the Bruins, but she said that she thinks she should be contributing more.
"Whenever I play well, and I actually believe I play well," she said. "...It just makes me feel really good. It makes me want to make everybody else feel the same way."
But she emphasized that "isn't a lot. I'm always really hard on myself."
That seems to be an understatement. Now past the obstacle of getting acclimated to the team, Thaler admits to becoming distracted by seemingly small errors, and is still learning to get past those inevitable mistakes.
"I try not to dwell on balls that have dropped," she said. "It makes me think about that one ball... instead of what's going to happen. I put a lot of things on me."
That may seem strange coming from someone new to the team, but Thaler's teammates said they understand.
"She gets easily frustrated with herself," sophomore setter Alexis Granneman said. "She takes it so harshly on herself, even at times when it shouldn't be put on her at all. I think it definitely makes her good, but at times can hold her back."
Junior middle blocker Shelby Ringdahl agreed.
"It bothers her because she knows she can do better," Ringdahl said.
That said, Granneman and Ringdahl admire Thaler's ability. "She's so naturally good. She's been exactly what we needed. She's made our back row so much stronger," Granneman said.
"That's so true, holds our defense together. We all love her," said Ringdahl, who recalled attending a volleyball camp at Jefferson Junior High where Thaler was invited to play with girls two years older, including Ringdahl.
"She was by far the best one there," Ringdahl said.
Rock Bridge coach Beth Newton has been pleased with Thaler's contribution and says she deserves her role on the team.
"She's an outstanding back row player," Newton said. "She's a great server, a good consistent player. She's the first freshman I've started on varsity."
Ringdahl and Granneman like Thaler's attitude as well.
"She wants to win so badly, she'll do anything to make it happen," Ringdahl said. "She just wants everyone else to feel like that, too. She always does the best she can, and it's always amazing."
Granneman added, "I've never seen any freshman give as much (effort) as she does."
Indeed, Thaler suggested working hard is the quickest way to endear yourself to new teammates. "To show the team that you're willing to try your hardest every game." That way, she said, "they know that you actually want to be on the team and that you want to play with them.
"As soon as you build that trust, they start to warm up to you."
Said Ringdahl confidently, "I have complete faith in her. I completely trust her."