Sept. 22, 2011
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
Baylor volleyball coach Jim Barnes' introduction to Brittany Ridenour was watching her pull herself out of the stands after diving for a loose ball.
"I looked over there, and she had the biggest bruise on her leg that I've ever seen," Barnes said of the senior setter from Council Bluffs, Iowa. "I stopped to watch, just because of that. And that's what we loved about her was her toughness and her fighting mentality. (She was) not the complete, most skilled setter, but her toughness is what caught our eye."
It was that same toughness and never-give-up mentality that helped Ridenour win the starting job as the solo setter in the Bears' 5-1 offense when everything seemed to be stacked against her.
Coming into fall camp, Barnes made it clear that the setter position was junior Kate Harris' job to lose. But Ridenour, the senior captain, had other ideas.
"After everything I had worked for all these years of volleyball, I wasn't just going to give up and quit," she said. "This is my senior year, so I just worked hard every day, showed up and put it in God's hands and this is where it's gotten me."
Winning the job coming out of fall camp by "working her tail off," Barnes said, Ridenour has stepped up in a big way to lead the Bears (11-3) and rank among the Big 12 leaders with 9.89 assists per set going into Wednesday's 7 p.m. conference opener against 25th-ranked Oklahoma (13-3).
"Brit just would not be denied," Barnes said. "She's a little more physical than Kate, but what Kate had over her was accuracy. And that's a position, much like quarterback, where you need accuracy. She just put in more and more extra work to get accurate. And that's now what gives her the edge is she's become much more accurate, and she's a physical setter than can jump high and do more things at the net. When she started gaining that accuracy, that's what caught our eye."
At the Fairfield Inn North Baylor Classic, Ridenour racked up a then career-high 49 assists in a five-set win over Northern Colorado in the title match and added 10 digs, five block assists and four kills to earn tournament MVP honors.
Her best match, though, might have been her last when Ridenour narrowly missed her first triple-double with 48 assists, 12 digs and a career-high eight kills with a .583 attack percentage.
"When a match is on and tough points are happening, she knows it and she'll slow things down and bring the team together and re-focus them," Barnes said. "That takes experience to know when to slow a match down or speed it up. She did that at UNLV when we needed it. She slowed it down when it was getting out of hand in game 5, and we found a way to come back."
One of her jobs as the setter is to find the hot hand. That's led to six different players posting double-digit kills, led by Zoe Adom with 19 and Bri Tolbert and Adri Nora with 16 apiece.
"You just have to see what's working, what's not, where you're getting the splits, where you're going to find some holes, so you can set up your hitters to get the most kills," Ridenour said.
Much like the quarterback in football and point guard in basketball, the success of the volleyball team hinges on the setter's performance.
"They're touching the ball every play, every second contact," Barnes said. "And besides that, they've got control all their hitters, because your hitters go up and down emotionally. You've got to know where they like it, when not to set them, when to get them the ball. . . . She's really taken that offense on her shoulders. She's learning how to set up her hitters in the right areas and her own offense, too. She's learning how to keep the defenses worrying about her."
While she dreamed of playing collegiate athletics and following in the footsteps of her older siblings - her brother, Gil, ran track at Iowa State; and her sister, Minette, played volleyball at San Diego State - volleyball didn't seem to be path, at least early on.
"When I was in junior high, I sat the bench on the `A' team in 8th grade and didn't play very much. Volleyball just wasn't my thing," Ridenour said.
But the next year, as a freshman at Lincoln High School, Ridenour became the setter for the varsity team.
"One of my coaches, Troy Gilb, took me under his wing and said, `I'm going to make you a setter,''' she said. "And I was like, `OK, whatever.' He said you have the athleticism, you're fast and I think you have the mentality for it. So he made me a setter. I had never set before, but he trusted me. He gave me the confidence."
As a senior, Ridenour earned All-American honors and was named the Iowa Player of the Year and Gatorade Player of the Year, leading her team to a conference championship and third-place finish at state.
But her athletic success didn't end there. Ridenour was also a four-year letter-winner and three-year varsity starter in basketball, a two-time state qualifier in the hurdles on the track and even played one year of tennis.
"It was a blast, and I wouldn't give it up for anything," she said. "Some days, I would go from volleyball to club volleyball practice, or from basketball to club volleyball. I think back, and I don't know I did it. But it was so great. I made some great friends in sports, people that I still keep in touch with. I'm a senior in college, and some of my friends from high school are still going to come visit me. Volleyball has given me so many opportunities and friendships that will last forever."