It was one of the first days of volleyball practice in 1985, but the Rock Bridge gymnasium was quiet.
Players lay out across the floor, but nobody was diving down for a dig, physically, at least. Fourth-year coach Vicki Reimler had her team deep in a meditation drill. It was her way of preparing the team for a match.
“Getting a bunch of 16-, 17-year-old girls to take the exercise (seriously) was monumental,” said Kara Hudson, a senior on that team. “Who knew how important it was to be in shape mentally? Coach ‘Vic’ did.”
Perhaps it was not the most orthodox way of running practice, but then again in her 22 seasons as coach, Reimler has always done things differently. During that time, she compiled a 227-235-28 record and won district championships in 1982 and 1985.
That run will soon end. As the Bruins prepare for the Class 4, District 10 playoffs, Reimler is preparing for something else: life without volleyball. She announced Sept. 24 that this would be her final season as coach; she wants more time to devote to her duties as athletic director.
Rock Bridge (9-14-3) opens at 6:15 tonight in Jefferson City against the Lady Jays (21-8-1).
Hickman (30-1) has a first-round bye. The top-seeded Kewpies play the Camdenton-Rolla winner at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
When Reimler’s career ends, her players will remember her as someone whose success numbers cannot adequately measure. She seems just as focused on teaching life lessons as she does on winning volleyball matches.
“I’m just going to remember her as kind of the mother of our team,” said Ashley Schulte, a senior on this year’s team. “We could always talk to her and she always told us exactly what she was thinking and exactly what she felt like we needed to do.”
Said Reimler: “It’s not just about volleyball, it’s about life, too.”
Reimler has plenty of life experience to talk about because she has never been one to back away from challenges. Aside from becoming the first female athletic director at Rock Bridge in 1999, she took over one of the state’s strongest teams when she arrived at Rock Bridge in 1982 with only one year of coaching experience, and that was as an assistant.
“The year before, the team was like (19-1), and had been upset in the finals of district, and just had an outstanding season,” Reimler said. “And here were these girls back and they’ve got this rookie coach.”
Rather than implement her system, Reimler decided to learn the system in place. It worked, eventually, but not before she and the Bruins experienced some growing pains. Rock Bridge finished a 10-10 regular season and was matched against No. 1 Hickman for the district championship.
“We had a very average season, and then (the players) all remembered what had happened the year before,” Reimler said. “And we upset (Hickman) and became the district champions my first year.”
Although the Bruins’ 1982 magic ride ended with a loss to Hickman Mills in the next round, Reimler said she was spoiled to win that early in her career. Her success continued through 1985, when the Bruins finished 13-6 and won another district crown, and into 1986, when the Bruins won 15 matches.
She also had a knack for developing friendships with her players. The 1982 Bruins gave her a warm welcome almost every day.
“My first year here, they ‘Oreoed’ my car just about every other day,” she said. “They would pull apart the Oreos and stick the cream on my windshields and my windows.”
Said Hudson: “She was a strong mentor, quicker to listen and understand than many of our parents. She coached with the same self-respect, intelligence and integrity that she lives day in and day out.”
With so much success so quickly, Reimler probably didn’t realize what the next several years would bring. Rock Bridge won three matches each in 1987 and 1991, and she can remember the heartache of going from good to bad in the same short amount of time it took to get good.
Reimler also was starting to wear down. Aside from coaching volleyball, she taught physical education and was an assistant coach for the girls’ basketball team. She decided all of that was too much, stepping down from her basketball duties after the 1991-92 season.
“I still miss coaching basketball because there is a group of kids that play basketball that feed in from softball and tennis and all these other places,” Reimler said. “You get to know so many more girls that way. But it was a good move and something I needed to do at that time.”
In the meantime, her volleyball team was showing plenty of good signs. The 1993, the Bruins finished 16-7-2 and featured All-North Central Missouri Conference Tournament players Joan Pauly and Carrie Bair.
Bair had moved from Colorado before her sophomore year, and Reimler helped her feel at home in Columbia.
“She was a role model in my life,” Bair said. “When I think back on the people who have really shaped who I am and what I am doing with my life now, I think of Vicki Reimler at the top of my list.”
With her All-Conference players returning, Reimler couldn’t have been more excited about 1994. Her Bruins didn’t disappoint.
Rock Bridge started 16-0-1 and won the NCMC tournament for the second straight year as all six starters were named to the All-Conference team. The Bruins finished the regular season 20-2-1.
There was one problem. No. 1 Jefferson City was just as good and proved it, sweeping Rock Bridge in the title match.
“It was very disappointing because we were very good that year,” Reimler said. “You just kind of walk away going, ‘Man, even in our very best year we can’t break out of our district.’ So that part was very frustrating.”
As if the defeat wasn’t painful enough, things were about to get much worse. Seven players from the 1994 team graduated and from 1995-99, the Bruins went 33-78-14.
Even through the leanest of years, Reimler stayed positive. She continued to stress mental preparation by reflecting with the team before matches or by using candles to demonstrate the importance of unity.
“I almost hope I’ve done a better job with that sometimes than as a volleyball coach because that’s what really matters is what kind of people we produce,” Reimler said.
It paid off on the court in 2000, when the Bruins began a string of three straight winning seasons.
“There is always a brighter side to any picture,” said Sarah Tandy, a senior last season. “And she always made sure you saw that even if you just lost.”
For Reimler, though, it was becoming more difficult to serve as athletic director, teach physical education and coach volleyball. She said she wasn’t able to put 100 percent effort into each of her roles, and to her that was unacceptable. Finally, she decided to give up volleyball.
“It’s a good decision, and I know that,” Reimler said. “If I was wavering at all, I’m sure that it would be much more tumultuous.”
Future Bruins won’t only miss out on relaxation sessions and inspirational talks, but also on a person who is more than a coach. Reimler is a life teacher.
“I tell kids if they can find something they love to do, they’ll never work a day in their life,” she said. “And I never consider this coming to work ... I will look back and think I was truly blessed.”