Just a few short months ago, middle hitter Jennifer Brendel was on fire.
“We had a varsity camp over the summer, and I played pretty well,” the Oakville senior said. “Now when I have a good game, Coach (Morgan Lucas) will say, ‘There’s Camp Brendel.’”
For the 6-foot senior, ‘Camp’ has been is full swing the majority of the fall. Brendel has been one of the key contributors for Oakville (12-5-1), the No. 7 team in the STLhighschoolsports.com large school rankings, which opened the week in second place in the Suburban West Conference at 6-1.
A four-year varsity starter, Brendel ended the week second to fellow senior Sarah Makowski in kills (134), kills per game (2.58) and kill percentage (30.1). She has served for a team-high 114 points and also is first in aces with 35.
Brendel, who plays the entire rotation, also is among the team leaders on defense. Libero Sam Ziegelmeier leads the way with 200 serve receives, but Brendel is second with 160. She also has 63 digs.
Lucas said Brendel, who was voted this year’s captain by her teammates, has been solid since day one.
“She’s one of our top kill leaders, and she stays in all the way around and plays very good defense,” Lucas said. “She’s one of our go-to players in every category.”
Brendel teams up with the 6-1 Makowski, the team MVP last season, to give the Tigers a strong presence in the middle.
“They have both been with me since their freshman year,” Lucas said. “It’s great because they push each other to be better. When we can stay in system and get them the ball, it’s been great for our team.”
Lucas said Brendel, not usually a vocal player, is a hard worker who leads by example.
“She is constantly putting in extra time, and I think it shows,” Lucas said. “She’s in great shape and jumps well. When you watch her get a kill, she gets excited and gets other kids motivated.”
Top hitters Brendel, Makowski (140) and junior outside hitter Abby Pourcillie (98) have been putting up good numbers thanks to the play of senior setter Kayla Reeg, who has 406 assists. And the placement of those sets depends on Oakville serve receive.
It wasn’t very effective last week in a shutout loss to top-ranked Lafayette and struggled in the first and second game of a crucial conference match on Thursday at Lindbergh.
“Lafayette was one of those games where we just fell apart,” Brendel said. “But we’re looking to learn from it and get better.”
Oakville beat Lafayette to win the conference title last season. But the Lancers (22-0), the defending Class 4 state champions, have been invincible this year.
“Lafayette is a phenomenal team,” Lucas said. “We didn’t bring our ‘A’ game that night. First place is out of reach, but we have a great shot at second.”
Marquette (22-2-2, 5-1) opened the week a half-game behind the Tigers in league play. The Mustangs visit Oakville this Thursday at 5:15 p.m. with second place on the line.
After that, just two regular season home matches - against No. 3 Francis Howell (18-4-2) and No. 8 Ursuline (18-7-1) - remain until the Tigers participate in the Class 4 District 2 Tournament at Seckman.
Brendel, who has played club ball since she was 11, plans to play in college. Brendel is “talking to some schools, but nothing is set in stone yet.”
“I’ve had some good matches this season, but I don’t feel like I’ve hit my stride yet,” Brendel said. “Hopefully, it will come soon.”
Lucas and the Tigers hope she gets there in time for the district tournament. Oakville, the district host last season, was upset by Lindbergh in the district championship match.
“We’re so lucky to get her in here as a freshman,” Lucas said of Brendel. “She definitely has been a leader by example.”