COLUMBIA — At the start of the season, Rock Bridge volleyball player Nici Thaler, a junior libero for the Bruins, set a goal for herself and her team. This week, Thaler knows what it's like to accomplish it.
“I felt awesome,” said Thaler, describing Rock Bridge's victory at the Class 4, District 9 tournament Tuesday in Wentzville.
The thrill of reaching her goal was easy to see on her face as she described the victory.
“The second match against Hannibal was intense,” Thaler said. “But we knew that we were not going to let that game go. We worked too hard to just let it go.”
The top-seeded Bruins (26-8-2) beat the Pirates 2-1 in the final after knocking off host Holt 2-0 in the semifinals. Rock Bridge is set to play against Nixa (30-9) in the sectional round at 3 p.m. Saturday at Rock Bridge.
It wasn't the first time Rock Bridge coach Vicki Reimler had won a district title, but it has been a while. Reimler led the Bruins the last time they won a district tournament in 1985. The previous season, Hickman had upset an undefeated Bruins squad, ruining hopes for a big year.
“The following season, those girls played with intensity,” Reimler said. “And they found a way to beat Hickman. It just goes to show you how tough it is to win the tournament.”
Reimler said today’s game is different from the style of play that won the district tournament 25 years ago.
“The game is so much faster,” Reimler said. “There is more variety with hitting. Back then all of the sets went to the middle hitter. Now, they go to everybody and there are more hitting styles.
"I recall that 20 years ago, volleyball players consisted mostly of basketball players who wanted to get an early start on the basketball season. Now, very few of these girls play multiple sports. They are more specialized. Today, they are here for the love of the game.”
Thaler said she thinks the success of this season's team is because of the exceeding amount of talent the Bruins have.
“This year has been so different,” Thaler said. “We have had some really great players step up from JV last year, including Kayla (Howard). Also, Niki (Collier) has been an amazing addition to the team.”
Niki Collier transferred to Rock Bridge this year from California and is an MU volleyball recruit. She will graduate this fall, and begin training with the Tigers in the spring.
“It has been a really special experience,” Collier said. “I do not quite have the same connection to the school as some of the other girls, but it feels good to be a part of such a great team, and to know that I was a part of their success.
"I am just really excited that we are playing so well, and I am ending here on a high note. It has made me even more excited to start playing for Mizzou.”
The Bruins are running on the momentum and excitement of districts, hoping that sectional play will bring another celebration.
“I want to go to state,” Thaler said, clenching her fists. “If we win our first match in the sectional tournament, we could be playing Helias. I want to beat Helias so bad.”
Reimler said it won't be easy.
“We can now assume that all of the teams in this tournament are very good,” Reimler said. “But we have to believe that we can find a way to win. If we do not believe that we can do this, we might as well just not show up.”