Brenna Schlader grew up playing soccer, softball and basketball. She knew nothing about volleyball, though, until her freshman year at West Junior High.
“My mom was like, ‘Hey, that looks like a fun sport,’” Schlader said. “So I went out for it, and I really liked it. It was kind of different because I had never been in a public school before, so I was like, ‘Whoa, there are tall girls, too.’”
Schlader, a 6-foot-3 senior at Hickman, was tired of playing soccer and had played softball only for fun. She continued to play basketball, but Schlader’s competitive side also enjoyed her new sport.
“West helped me a lot,” Schlader said. “To know that you need a bump, set and hit to get the ball over. I was like, ‘Bump, what’s a bump.’ Then I caught on to it, and by the end of the year I was pumped about it.”
Hickman coach Greg Gunn said Schlader is a hard worker and is dedicated to improving.
The Kewpies (32-1) play Marquette (29-4-2) in a sectional game at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Rolla, with the winner advancing to the quarterfinal match at 6.
Playing club ball in the summer has been key to Schlader’s improvement. Schlader joined the Vipers, a local club team, after her freshman year.
This past year, Schlader and teammates Paige Ely, Sharin Muskrat, Danielle Newton, Alex Ristow and Naomi Tesfamikael were members of the Vipers and won a gold medal at the Show-Me State Games.
“(Club ball) has made the whole difference,” Gunn said. “They’ve played together for a whole year, and they have a great coach. She worked with them on individual stuff as well as team goals.”
In addition to playing club ball last summer, Schlader attended a volleyball camp at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau. The Southeast coaches had never heard of Schlader before the camp began.
“Their camp was June 4,” Schlader said. “So they had never really heard of me. Vipers is a small club team, so we never go to big tournaments like nationals, and none of the bigger schools had heard of me.”
Although Schlader began the camp as an unknown, she impressed the coaches and left with a scholarship offer. She later committed to SEMO and will sign her letter of intent when the national signing period begins in November.
Schlader chose SEMO over Austin Peay in Cookeville, Tenn., and small colleges in Louisiana, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.
“I really liked their school and I had heard a lot of good things about it,” Schlader said. “I liked that it was in the OVC (Ohio Valley Conference). My brother plays in that, so I can go down and see him play. Austin Peay was recruiting me very highly. They were really disappointed when I told them I was going to SEMO.”
Schlader said Austin Peay recruited her without seeing her play a game based on reports from her brother, Zac, a sophomore center on the Governor’s basketball team.
Before Schlader chose SEMO, several schools, including Illinois, SEMO, Weber State and Wyoming recruited her for basketball.
Schlader said Wyoming was recruiting her the hardest and that she visited its campus while traveling with the Hustlers, a basketball club team.
Even with the attention she drew in basketball, she enjoys volleyball and has no plans to play both at SEMO.
“I don’t want to play two sports,” Schlader said. “I’ve thought about it all summer. But it seems kind of stressful and my heart is into volleyball. I really enjoy basketball, but I don’t think I could do both for four years.”
The coaches at SEMO told Schlader she can improve her blocking and arm swing. In addition to those areas, Schlader said she would like to improve her passing so she can play a full rotation in college.
Gunn said Schlader has improved in all areas of her game in the past year, but there is room for growth.
“I don’t think she has really grown into her body,” Gunn said. “She is going to get more strength and coordination as she works out more.”
Schlader knows there will be an adjustment to make to prepare for college volleyball and said her future SEMO teammates have told her the preseason practices are the hardest part.
Even facing that adjustment, Schlader said that she thinks she has an advantage heading into next season by playing against tough competition every day at Kewpies’ practices.
“When I go to a Division I school, it won’t be as hard to work my way up there,” Schlader said. “Because I’m already there. I’ve already worked myself up. It will be different because they won’t know what I can do.”