By Rob Patrick
There are moments in sports — at every level — that a display of sheer athleticism can make observers[more] sit up, widen their eyes and say, “Wow.” And some sports lend themselves to those moments more than others.
At Bryant High School, for example, think of Dillon Winfrey returning a kickoff, hitting the seam at full speed and breaking it to the outside and up the sideline; or Anthony Black driving headlong into the paint, stopping on a dime, leaping high and softly arching a teardrop shot over a much taller player and hitting nothing but the bottom of the net; or, well, anything that Alexis Royal does on or near the track.
Those who have seen the Bryant Lady Hornets volleyball team over the last three years wound undoubtedly agree on their own example:
When Brianna White jumps.
In old-school terms, she skies.
In fact, during workouts one day, the coaches were measuring vertical jumps and White’s was 34 inches.
“She out-jumped almost the entire boys basketball team that day,” noted Bryant volleyball coach Beth Solomon.
And, while she’s been an astonishing leaper for some time, White has also developed into such a skilled player that, on Wednesday, she officially signed to continue her volleyball career and education at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith.
“This is a big day,” stated Lady Hornets head coach Beth Solomon, “for Bree, obviously, and for our volleyball program as well. She’s the first girl we’ve had sign.
“I think she’s really going to help their program and I think their coach sees that too,” she added. “I’m so proud. I got to watch her grow up, not just on the court but mature in her life. She’s been a joy.”
The daughter of Karen White-Swift and Melvin Swift, White and her senior classmates, along with a strong group of juniors, have helped Solomon take the program to new heights. After just missing a trip to State when they were sophomores in 2009, they qualified in 2010 and won a game at State over Rogers Heritage. And last fall, they turned in their highest finish in conference play, earning a first-round bye as a No. 2 seed at State.
When she talked about it, White got emotional. “Nobody understands how far this team has come,” she said. “I’m really happy I got to be a part of this team.
As a senior last fall, she led the team had 46 solo blocks, averaged seven kills per game and sported a 74 percent hitting percentage.
“Last year, and definitely this year, we started realizing that if we said, ‘Hey, Bree, we have to have this point,’ then she would get it done for us,” Solomon said. “And the biggest thing this year was that her timing on her blocking finally coincided with how high her vertical is. We got her arms in the right place so she wasn’t blocking with her head anymore. It was a true block and the ball was going down and getting us points.”
An all-conference selection all three years at Bryant High, White was named all-State as a junior and all-State Tournament this year.
She visited UAFS after the 2011 season.
“One of the assistant coaches came to one of our games in Van Buren and gave coach (Solomon) a card,” White recalled. “He said, ‘Here, look at us. See if you like it.’ So I went up there for a visit and I loved it. It’s amazing and the volleyball team’s really good. I thought about trying out at some other places but after I went there I knew that was the school for me.
“I got to meet the team and I got to sit on the bench with the redshirts so I got to meet them and interact,” she continued. “They were all really nice. I wasn’t even on the team at that point but they treated me like I was and I loved that.”
She plans to major in Business Administration. As for playing volleyball, she related, “The coach said she wants me to train and get better, on the level that they’re at. She’s not sure what position she wants me to play yet. I played middle in high school but I might play middle or outside there. Hopefully, I can get in and play.”