Athlete of the Year: Go, 'Big Red'
The nickname arrived in middle school.
As Brylee Arnold, the 6-foot-3, auburn-haired middle blocker heads off to UNO to play volleyball as Glenwood’s first every Division I volleyball recruit, the moniker goes with her.
And she’s just fine with that.
“My dad came up with it,” she said of her nickname, with only the slightest of cringe. “And it stuck so he’s always called me that. It’s grown on me over the years. I used to hate it. Now, it makes me laugh.”
Arnold made more opponents cry than laugh last season. The senior led the Rams to a 36-8 season, pounding down a team-high 330 kills and setting the school record for blocks. Oh, the lefty also earned second team All-Hawkeye 10
Conference honors and threw the shot and discus this spring for the Rams track team.
Arnold is The Opinion-Tribune’s 2021-2022 Female Athlete of the Year.
Regularly being the tallest girl in the room, the class picture and on the court isn’t new to Arnold. She’s used to standing out in a crowd. However, she admits to not always being the most graceful of athletes. She’s clumsy, she said. It took a while for her athleticism to catch up with her height.
“I’ve always been way taller than everybody else, so it was a little hard for me to do some of the agility type things when I first started playing,” she said. “Some of the things shorter kids could just do so height did probably play a role, but I feel like I’ve gotten better at that over the years. I still have my clumsy moments though.”
She’s not sure where she got her height. Her mother is 5-foot-9 and dad is 5-foot-11.
“It might be from distant relatives on my mother’s side,” she said.
The red hair is definitely in the family DNA.
“My mom and dad don’t, but lots of people in my family, my aunts and my brother, they all have red hair.”
Arnold first started playing volleyball in second grade. She took up basketball in fourth grade. Volleyball immediately clicked with her, even if she didn’t always click with the game.
“I wasn’t the most coordinated playing volleyball when I was little,” she said. “Some of the skills wouldn’t catch on as fast in certain things but I felt volleyball, once I figured it and ran with it, I fell in love with it.
“Whereas basketball, it took me a little bit longer and I was further behind. I think that might have been that I didn’t love it as much as I loved volleyball.”
What has always showed on court and at the net is a fiery competitviness. Her left-handed stroke and long arms menacing opponents from the day she set foot in the Rams’ gym as a freshman. She didn’t expect to play varsity as a freshman, but she prepared like she would and played major minutes in both volleyball and basketball that season. She’s been a mainstay in the line up in both sports for four years.
“I loved every minute of my high school career,” she said. “When I was a freshman coming in and getting to be a part of the varsity team and seeing that atmosphere and then being able to be a leader my senior year, it was special.
There’s not so much moments or memories as relationships.”
Coming out of her freshman season, Arnold began getting the notice of college coaches – in basketball and volleyball.
“I was deadest on playing college basketball beginning in eighth grade,” she said.
That changed following her sophomore year when she was invited to play for Premier Volleyball in Nebraska, one of the top club programs in the Midwest.
“I started getting some looks for volleyball and I thought, ‘Maybe I should be playing volleyball.’ And so, I had to decide. And I decided I didn’t love basketball as much as I loved volleyball and it came down to that.”
She wanted to give volleyball and a potential scholarship her full attention, but she had no intention of giving up on basketball or her hardwood teammates. The decision didn’t so much re-focus Arnold as re-direct her thinking about her future.
“I definitely would say I focused more on volleyball for that reason but at the same time our basketball team was really successful too. So, during basketball season I was all for it, but I was also juggling club volleyball. I would definitely say I was more focused on volleyball, but I still loved both.”
After back-to-back state tournament bids in volleyball, the Ram volleyball team’s season came to an unexpected early end in the regional semifinals this season. It was a disappointing end for Arnold and her teammates.
“I still think about when we should have so and so game or we were two points away from a state championship (in basketball) or in volleyball when we lost in the regionals, and I’d never been a part of regional final where we didn’t make state. That was super frustrating, but they were also learning opportunities that I still remember.”
Arnold has no shortage of such big moments to remember in her Ram athletic resume. In all, she was a part of two state volleyball teams and three state tournament basketball teams, including a state runner up finish her junior year. The one moment that stands out the most, however, came in her sophomore season. Glenwood had just upset favored Council Bluffs Lewis Central in a five-set thriller to punch their first every trip to the state volleyball meet and Arnold also broke the school’s single season block record in the match.
“It was probably my favorite game ever,” she said. “We made it to state for the first time and I will always remember that.”
“It’s crazy to think how much success the girls’ programs have had the last four years. I think that’s part of this class, the one before us and the ones coming after us, building a culture. I look back and I see other schools aren’t as fortunate to be a part of these teams or have these coaches that have been super successful. It’s been such an amazing opportunity and really humbling to be part of that.”
Arnold is looking forward to being a part of an on-the-rise UNO program. She chose the Mavericks because of the close-proximity to home and the family-like culture.
“I can get to know everybody and have a relationship with everyone and coaches that care about me,” said Arnold, who has been on campus all summer working out hoping to earn a spot in the rotation as a freshman. “I also like the team itself is up and coming and on the verge of getting into the NCAA tournament. That’s our goal this year. To make that happen over the next four years is a huge goal of mine and I think my teammates would say the same.”
Arnold shrugs off the mention of her being the first ever Division I volleyball recruit from Glenwood. But it’s an honor she doesn’t take lightly.
“It’s exciting,” she said. “It’s definitely crazy to think I did that. I can’t take all the credit for it. My parents have been huge and my teammates and (athletic director) Mr. (Jeff) Bissen and all the coaches have helped. It’s an awesome feeling.”