Brandi Bueltel is not afraid to be that girl.
The senior puts herself out there in all sorts of ways for her Carroll Kuemper volleyball team. There’s the older-sister side of her that helps get the locker room ready, makes T-shirts and reminds teammates to catch eight hours of sleep the night before a match.
When the ball is in the air, Bueltel is the one swinging away in pressure-packed moments. Sure, failure is a possibility for the 5-foot-10 outside hitter.
But it isn’t common.
“I’ve been playing this game way too long to get nervous or worry about making mistakes,” Bueltel said. “If I make a mistake, it makes me want to hit it harder the next time.”
Bueltel (pronounced BYEW-tel) has pushed the Knights during her three years as a varsity member. When the team broke through to the state tournament last season, she led the way with 11 kills and a .250 hitting percentage in a three-set quarterfinal loss to powerhouse Western Christian.
Now a senior, Bueltel is unquestionably the go-to girl for Iowa Class 2-A No. 6 Kuemper (16-3). Her 154 kills lead the team, as do her 24 service aces.
Kuemper coach Keith Stickrod got a glimpse of the future three years ago when an aggressive freshman caught his eye during a reserve match. In a back-and-forth contest against Harlan Community, Bueltel converted numerous kills in key spots.
“I was going, ‘That’s somebody I want on my varsity team,’” Stickrod said. “She’s filled those shoes and been doing that ever since pretty well.
“She takes a lot of chances and is rewarded by them. She plays without fear at times, and that makes for a good player.”
She’s also aware of the big-picture implications of the Knights’ hot start. A four-set home victory over Class 4-A No. 14 Council Bluffs Lewis Central earlier this month not only keeps Kuemper in the Hawkeye Ten Conference race, but also is crucial to earning a favorable seed for the October postseason.
“It’s my senior year, and I’ve definitely been looking forward to who we play and what it will take to get to state,” Bueltel said. “That’s always a big concern of mine.”
The Knights and 3-A No. 13 Red Oak are the only remaining unbeatens in league play. The squads face off Tuesday, and Kuemper’s gauntlet continues with consecutive matches at 3-A No. 14 Clarinda and at home against 4-A No. 4 Harlan.
Maybe the toughest part for Bueltel will be the rotations she watches from the bench. She plays the front row and serves, but sits for two turns in favor of her more talented passing teammates.
“It gives me a few moments to relax and regroup,” Bueltel said. “But when it’s an intense game, it’s like, ‘Ah, I just want to be on the floor.’”
The senior, who has also played basketball, soccer and softball throughout high school, has no solid college plans yet, though she said she would like to play volleyball if possible.
But first, Bueltel hopes to make plenty more strange faces. The Knights have a joke that any good hit during a match has to be followed by loud screams and facial contortions.
It’s one more thing Bueltel is not afraid to do.
“We use that to build up on each other and keep the momentum going,” Bueltel said. “Between me and (teammate) Hannah Dentlinger, we’ve had some pretty good ones.”