For a long time, Brenna Schmidt has had the physical frame that stands out on the volleyball court.
"I've pretty much always have been the tallest in my class," the 6-foot-5 Elmwood-Murdock senior says.
Still, there was room to grow.
"When (she) first started club, one of the things they said about her was she was like a newborn giraffe," Elmwood-Murdock coach Nichole Justesen said.
A few summers playing with the Nebraska Juniors changed that. Schmidt shedded "newborn," transforming into a Division I recruit that has yet to hit her ceiling.
Growing up, Schmidt could rely on her height to outperform others on the court. But as she got into high school and saw good competition, she had to develop other areas of her game.
This past summer with the Nebraska Juniors club team especially helped as Schmidt played a level higher.
"I felt like I really had to step up," said Schmidt, who committed to Kansas State in July. "Just to be able to play on that team and be able to compete against the people we are playing against, it pushed me to learn the game faster and to be more comfortable playing at that higher level."
Elmwood-Murdock has greatly benefited.
Schmidt is among the state leaders in kills at 289 entering the week. Opponents have had to work harder to get the ball over the net against Schmidt, who averages 1.3 blocks per set. Not only have the physical skills improved, but Schmidt can read the game better, Justesen said, and has a better understanding of where to go with the ball.
"Her junior year, she definitely became a far more explosive player," the head coach added.
Watching from a front-court seat is Schmidt's mother, Lisa, who is in her fourth year as an assistant coach for the Knights.
Lisa Schmidt went to Wayne State to play college volleyball, but a shoulder injury prevented her from playing. Watching her daughter prosper in a sport that bonds them has been special.
"You always want better for your children than what you have and her being able to attain this (a Kansas State offer), and really her dream because we weren't the people behind pushing it … it's an incredible feeling to see her achieve this goal and then help her through it," Lisa said.
What's it like playing for mom?
"Sometimes there are moments where I don't want to listen or I don't want to take her feedback, but I have to just to sometimes put that aside and forget that she's my mom for a second, and remember that she's my coach, too," Schmidt said. "She sees things from a different angle and she knows more than me."
Mom also is Brenna's biggest supporter, especially during the recruiting process.
Schmidt had to develop her recruiting profile in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a lot of recruiting limits. That didn't stop K-State from offering last spring.
"I really didn't think I was good until the coach said we're going to offer you," Schmidt said. "To see that I am that good and my hard work did pay off is really, really awesome."
Though Schmidt plays in the middle, the Knights run their offense through her and Bailey Frahm, another middle blocker. The two seniors have combined for 392 of the team's 583 kills. The Knights also are getting contributions for multiple sophomores, including setter Laney Frahm and libero/setter Tatum Backemeyer.
The goal, Schmidt said, is to help the 15-6 Knights get farther than they've ever been. The Knights are hopeful for a Class D-1 state tournament berth, and that journey recently received a jolt with an upset of Class C-1-rated Syracuse.
"We have a lot of really good athletes," said Justesen, whose daughter Madison also plays. "We're kind of like a family. We have our disagreements, but just like family, you're also closest to them and you defend them, and that's the neatest part to see."
Reach Clark Grell at 402-473-2639 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter at @LJSSportsGrell.