Ballard volleyball team is off to 6-1 start. The Baumgardner sisters are a big reason why.
Volleyball traditionally hasn't been the strongest sport at Ballard High School.
The Bombers have endured 10 losing seasons since 2010, including seven seasons with fewer than eight victories. Their only winning campaigns during that stretch came in 2016 and 2017 when Olivia and Ana Vier led them to respective 22-10 and 19-12 records.
But things seem to be changing in 2022. A young Bomber team is already 6-1 under first-year head coach Erica Fee.
“I was telling people I was excited for this year because I think they’re really talented,” Fee said. “But I’m also excited for years to come because I think we could be really good for a really long time.”
A big reason for that has been the play of sisters Brooklyn and Brenna Baumgardner at middle hitter.
“It’s awesome to have two 6-foot-tall girls,” Fee said. “I think their dynamic is fun. You can see them play off each other.”
Brooklyn stands 6-2 and Brenna 6 feet even. Brooklyn is a junior, having compiled 177 kills and 114 blocks over the previous two seasons, and Brenna is just starting her freshman year.
“I get to put them together hitter versus blocker and I get to see who wins,” Fee said. “They make each other better every day.”
Brooklyn is more of a traditional middle hitter. Brenna is a little more versatile and also rotates into the back row to help out with serving.
“They push each other to be better,” Fee said. “Brenna will see something Brooklyn does and be like 'Wow, I want to be like Brooklyn.' Then Brenna will do something that Brooklyn is surprised by and Brooklyn will say 'I want to be like Brenna.' Brenna can do some things Brooklyn can’t do and Brenna can do some things Brooklyn can’t do. It works both ways.”
Through the first seven matches of the 2022 season Brooklyn has 33 kills on 23.5% efficiency and 18 blocks. Brenna has 18 kills on 24.3% efficiency, and she's chipped in 15 blocks.
Brenna is also 31 of 32 serving with nine aces.
“She’s come in and stepped up when we needed her,” Brooklyn said of her younger sister. "It's such a fun experience playing with her."
Brenna admits she had some jitters entering the season. But having her sister on the team quickly helped calm her nerves.
“I was really nervous,” Brenna said. “But it’s fun playing with (Brooklyn) and playing with this team.”
The sisters are competitive, but ultimately they're supportive.
“We’re just cheering each other and supporting each other,” Brooklyn said. “We’ve always wanted each other to do well.”
The tandem has helped Ballard elevate its attack to a whole new level this fall.
“It’s so nice to be able to run quick plays and know they always have my back,” Ballard setter Ally Baker said. “I don’t ever feel scared to set them. I know they’re ready. They’re fantastic.”
Through the first seven matches Ballard is averaging 18.7 kills per set on 11.6% efficiency. Last year the Bombers averaged 9.5% efficiency.
The 2021 Bombers mostly ran their attack through all-conference outside hitter Ava Ashworth, who finished that season with 234 kills. This year's team has more balance.
“Everyone has really stepped up and done their jobs,” Brooklyn said. “I’m very impressed.”
Ballard suffered its first loss Tuesday night in a Raccoon River Conference match with Adel-Desoto-Minburn in Huxley that went the full five sets. That match showed Ballard it has plenty to work on, but also that it can hang with a lot of teams in Class 4A.
With the Baumgardner sisters leading the way the Bombers have the potential to do some big things in 2022.
"It’s only our seventh game and we’re coming out this strong,” Brooklyn said. “I’m excited to see where this season goes.”