COLUMBIA — As the national anthem began to play before the start of the Missouri volleyball game last month at Kansas State, Priscilla Armendariz had her mind on something other than the game.
Her family had not yet arrived.
Her, father, mother, aunt, uncle and younger sister were stuck in traffic on the drive from their home in Blue Springs to Manhattan, Kan., and 30 minutes before the game, when they usually show up, they were still not there.
Then, sure enough, when Armendariz was lining up with her team, she saw her family walk in and flashed them a smile and gave them a small wave.
Armendariz, a junior defensive specialist for Missouri, has always known she can count on her family's immense support, whether they’re attending her pageants or volleyball games.
“They’re always there for everything,” Armendariz said.
When Armendariz was younger, she reluctantly participated in beauty pageants.
“I hated them,” Armendariz said. “I was such a tomboy.”
But the pageants were truly a family affair. Her aunt and uncle, Sue and Jerry Juarez, took it upon themselves to keep her in a good mood while she was getting her hair and makeup done. They wanted her to be smiling when she went in front of the judges.
“My job when she was in pageants was to keep her happy,” Sue Juarez said in a phone interview. “My husband and I would be in there cracking jokes trying to make her smile.”
When she was in elementary school, Armendariz won the title of Miss Missouri American Sweetheart and took her family with her to the national pageant in Florida. After that, she decided she was done with pageants, and her volleyball career began when her mother signed her up for a summer volleyball camp.
“I was like, ‘No! I don’t want to play volleyball! This is awful!’” Armendariz said. “They literally drug me there by my ponytail.”
Armendariz ended up winning MVP of the camp and changed her feelings about playing volleyball. She joined a club team, and her uncle Jerry Juarez coached her for two years. He also helped out by driving Armendariz to practices and now likes to tell people Armendariz is his daughter.
“He likes to take credit for me,” Armendariz said. “People will be like, ‘Oh, is your daughter number 10?’ And he’ll say yes.”
Jerry and Sue Juarez don’t have children, so they consider Armendariz and her younger sister their children, too.
“We’re pretty much their kids. They have enough problems with just us,” Armendariz said jokingly.
Armendariz’s family drives an hour and a half to attend every Missouri home volleyball game. Her parents have only missed one home game this season because it was her younger sister’s high school homecoming. The family also attends away games at Kansas and Kansas State, and they will travel to Nebraska, Iowa State and Oklahoma if the games are on weekends.
And Armendariz knows when they arrive.
“My uncle whistles a lot. I can tell his whistle from a mile away,” she said. “To get my attention when they first walk in, I can always hear him whistling.”
She said her family is usually calm throughout her games, and they don’t get rowdy or do anything to embarrass her. They just enjoy watching her play.
“I love to see when she goes to the ground,” Priscilla Armendariz’s mother Angie Armendariz said in a phone interview. “It’s just awesome to see her sacrifice her body for the ball.”
Sue Juarez said seeing Priscilla Armendariz out on the court smiling and having a good time is what she likes the most about watching her niece play.
After the game is over, it’s not unusual for Priscilla Armendariz to hop in the car and return to Blue Springs to spend time with her family.
“I just love spending time with them,” Priscilla Armendariz said. “Even being in the car ride home with them, they’re just crazy and lots of fun.”
Priscilla Armendariz’s backyard is connected to her grandmother’s backyard, and her aunt and uncle live just down the street. Priscilla Armendariz smiled while explaining how the family will all gather at her grandmother’s house for home cooked meals.
“It’s family time,” Angie Armendariz said. “It’s not all about friends and partying. When she tells us she wants to come home, we are so happy.”