COUNCIL BLUFFS — The bruises are usually a dead giveaway for Brittany Ridenour.
Last season, the bumps and scrapes were more than enough proof that the Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln graduate — who appeared in just five volleyball matches — was a key member of a Baylor team that reached the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.
Now playing regularly in a two-setter system, Ridenour hasn’t shown any signs of letting up.
“She will dive into chairs, she will run into the pole,” Baylor coach Jim Barnes said. “She’s a blue-collar player, and she ends up black and blue very often.
“Every other day there’s a different bruise. We train really hard and she really gets after it, so it’s part of her identity.”
It’s also perhaps the main reason the junior is thriving as an everyday player for a team in the rugged Big 12. She saw the court in 27 matches as a freshman in 2008, primarily as a defensive specialist and server. But her playing time was cut drastically last fall while she was groomed as a setter behind Baylor’s All-American starter, Taylor Barnes.
Through it all, Ridenour didn’t waver in her dedication, or bruise count.
“It was definitely tough not getting to play as much as you’d like to,” Ridenour said. “But it’s all part of D-I athletics, and I always kept my same work ethic and worked my hardest every day. I guess that got me where I am today. It was hard not playing, but I was behind a great setter and so I was able to learn from her. It’s all worked out.”
Barnes has graduated. This season, the 5-foot-9 Ridenour has combined with fellow setter Kate Harris to account for the bulk of what is the fifth-highest per-game assist average (12.14) in the Big 12. She’s also part of a defense that paces the league in digs per game (19.43).
The Bears sport a 3-4 record following a weekend tournament in Minneapolis. In a five-game loss to No. 22 Northern Iowa on Saturday, Ridenour led her team in assists (26) while adding 16 digs and three kills.
But the 2007 Iowa player of the year is enjoying her time just as much off the court. She’s working toward an art history major, with the goal of eventually going to architecture school.
Another plus: The climate in Waco, Texas, is a bit more stable than southwest Iowa’s.
“It’s completely different in that the weather is always hot — it never gets cold there,” Ridenour said. “The people are different down here, but everyone’s really nice, and I really enjoy it. It’s a great place to experience college.”
Ridenour refuses to let herself relax in her starting role.
She still is learning the intricacies of operating in a two-setter attack for the first time. She’d like to be quicker and more athletic, though her coach said she’s already taken notable strides in those departments.
“She’ll do whatever it takes, and she’s just a competitor,’’ Barnes said. “Her strength is her work ethic and her desire to win. That’s definitely pushed every player on the team.”
Ridenour still has trouble believing she has two college seasons under her belt.
It seems like only yesterday she was asking her sister, Minette, about her experience at South Dakota State, where she played from 2003 to 2006. Now the younger Ridenour is the one offering college advice, chatting recently with former A.L. teammate Emily Olsen about her first season at South Dakota.
“I didn’t know what to expect coming out of high school,” Ridenour said. “You don’t get the full effect of what college volleyball is like until you’re in it yourself. I think I came in not knowing what to expect, but hoping for the best. It’s been a good experience.”