LOS ANGELES – For four years Brittnay Estes has laughed, cried, screamed, fist pumped and jumped in exhilaration or frustration for the Lipscomb volleyball team.
She is the passionate center for the Bisons, celebrating every point. And as a captain should do she is not shy about telling her teammates to take their level of play up another notch.
“I want to be remembered as a leader,” Estes said. “I want to be remembered as someone who was a little crazy.
“It is more fun to get excited about a point. It shows you are excited about the sport. It makes your teammates kind of chuckle or laugh when they see you do something stupid. Everyone loves to stomp their feet and get excited about scoring a point. Where else can you do that in real life?”
Estes is hopeful she will have many reasons to celebrate Friday night as Lipscomb faces No. 14 seed UCLA in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The start time at the John Wooden Center is 10 p.m. CT. Santa Clara and Michigan will open the evening.
Sometimes a player’s contributions to a team can’t be measured through numbers alone. Such is the case for Estes. Her numbers were enough to earn her the Atlantic Sun Player of the Year and the conference tournament most valuable player award. She was named to the All-Conference Second Team and the All-Tournament Team as a junior.
She will fall short of making 1,000 kills in her career, but Lipscomb coach Brandon Rosenthal is quick to point out that Estes is more than the sum of her stats.
“Britt could care less about her stats. She has never asked about them once. The main thing she wants to do is compete. With that she makes everyone around her better. The hardest part of the game sometimes is being able to lead with emotion and passion.
‘She is fun to watch. Time and time again I hear people say how much fun they have watching her play. Not a lot of people expect a girl her size to play with so much power and such raw athleticism. It is more about how she has played the game than the numbers.”
Athletes are also students with demands on their time in the classroom as well as on the court. They also have family situations to deal with as well as the dynamics of being a part of the team.
Through all of the rigors Estes has remained the energy booster for the Bisons. Rosenthal finds her emotional endurance to be remarkable.
“The question early on, even during the recruiting process, was how long she could keep that passion and energy going,” Rosenthal said. “At what point in her career would that wane. But it hasn’t.
“I think that is the most impressive thing about her. Every day she has lived up to that reputation and I think it is hard to do especially as your body wears down. It gets tougher and tougher to answer that bell.”
Last spring Estes underwent shoulder surgery. She was able to recover quicker than most athletes who endure her type of injury.
“That is one thing that doesn’t get talked about a lot,” Rosenthal said. “Sometimes it takes two years to get going.
“But she was kind of a warrior in that sense. She came back even more determined and more dialed in to build her legacy.”
A love for the game
The first love for Estes was softball. Her father, Mike, is coach at Eckerd College, an NCAA Division II school. Her sister, Lynsie, played volleyball and in the seventh grade Estes decided to give the sport a try.
“Once I got to my freshman year of high school I decided volleyball was awesome and I was going to focus on it. I was not the best player on my team, even my senior year.
“I love volleyball because it is so fast-paced. I like to always be going and doing.”
She was not an immediate success. And despite being Co-Player of the Year in the Tampa, Florida area her senior year, she claims she was never the player she wanted to be.
“I wasn’t very good,” Estes said. “I had teammates who surrounded me who were really good. Our club team was the national champion my senior year at the highest level, but I was surrounded by All-American players.
Her sister played club volleyball and was on the softball team at Stetson. Estes decided she wanted to play club volleyball as well and turned her back on softball.
“I wasn’t getting a lot of playing time in volleyball,” Estes said. “I would get picked for the two team when I thought I should be on the one team. It was kind of discouraging.
“But I decided it didn’t matter if I was on the No. 2 team. I was going to get better.”
Estes admits it is painful for her to watch videos of her high school and club matches. But she was good enough to consistently play on teams above her age.
“My Dad told me I was not a quitter,” Estes said. “I was not going to give up. I was going to work harder.
“My Dad and my sister were the ones who implanted the competitiveness in me. My Dad always said player better than the person on the other side who is playing your same position.”
Getting her chance at Lipscomb
Estes, an outside hitter, had to work her way into a regular spot on the Lipscomb team. She admits there were times she wondered if she really wanted to play volleyball any more. An injury to middle blocker Molly Spitznagle forced Claire Peterson to move from the right side to the middle. Estes, a sophomore at the time, took over the right side and never relinquished it.
Regardless of what happens against UCLA, Estes is ending her career having reached one of her major goals.
“This season it has been all about getting that A-Sun championship ring,” Estes said. “I never had the chance to get 1,000 kills, but I have a ring and I have done something here. I have a ring.
Estes doesn’t think too much about the legacy she is going to leave. In the next couple of years when she returns to campus all she wants is to be greeted warmly and be able to hug Jenny Phelan, Chloe Rogers and Brittany Thomas as they end their senior years. I will be so proud of them and everything they have been through.”
Rosenthal describes Estes as a player who has been at Lipscomb to give the volleyball program everything she could give it.
“You look at some of our great players like Alex Kelly, Jake Pease or Ann Mullins from a list that goes on and on and each of those players have different things that kind of go with them,” Rosenthal said. “Kelly, Pease and Mullins have the numbers. They were amazing competitors as well and Brittnay falls into that group because of her ability to compete.”
Not as easy as it looks
Most everyone who sees Estes on the court sees the smiles and hears the shouts of celebration. But Rosenthal has seen Estes close to tears as she faces the challenges of being a college student. Estes can be having the worst day of her life, but she is able to put her problems on the back burner for two hours of practice or a match to work as hard as she can.
“It is hard to put into words the emotions these girls go through,” Rosenthal said. “Everyone sees the glorified side of college athletics, but these girls have real lives. What they go through is nonstop.
“I don’t know if we have ever had somebody who can turn it on like her and make a statement. She has so much raw energy and fierceness.”