USU volleyball: Brainard brings hitting prowess, good spirit to Aggies
Logan • Elle Brainard calls attention to herself on campus without trying. That's the life of a 6-foot-5 volleyball player moving through a shorter world.
It actually doesn't bother her.
"I don't feel tall ever until I see myself in pictures, honestly," she said. "I like the attention. It sounds really bad, but I like talking to people. If that's something easy for people to come up and talk to me about, that's great."
She generates a whole new kind of interest when she steps on a volleyball court: How are teams supposed to stop one of the tallest players in the conference who plays from the right side?
It turns out there's not a great answer to that question much to the benefit of Utah State (15-8, 8-4), which is thriving in the Mountain West. Although Brainard doesn't lead the team in kills this season, her presence makes the Aggies a better team.
"The thing she brings is attention," Utah State coach Grayson DuBose said. "Teams key in on her. It makes it easier for the people around her to open up because we can move it around a bunch and not just set to her 50 times. It's a big advantage for us offensively."
While many players at Brainard's height would be shuffled into a middle blocker role, she's always been a versatile opposite hitter. College coaches, including Dubose, wanted her to be a middle blocker at the next level, which would mean more defense and less offense.
Then DuBose watched her play.
"Even an idiot like me can figure out that's where you need that arm," he said. "She has a real strong, powerful arm. That really helped her grab a hold of that position."
It took a while for Brainard to get a hold of that position. She played blocker as a freshman to alleviate some depth issues there. She's switched back to her natural position as a sophomore even though she was conference freshman of the year last season.
It's required more accountability, and she's adjusted to that over time.
"The first couple times at practice, I didn't feel like an older girl," she said. "I thought the coaches would help me work on more things, but that's my role now. I'm an older person with all this experience. I don't get all the attention sometimes."
Brainard, a team leaders in blocks and kills, is one of the team's most intimidating players, which turns out to be pretty bemusing for those who know her outside of the game.
Brainard is cheerful and upbeat off the court. She wears tie-dye shirts to practice. She's quick to volunteer when the team sends someone to local elementary schools to read to children.
DuBose said perhaps the most important role Brainard plays is as an ever-optimistic leader. She lifts the team's spirits up to her level.
"Her personality she brings to the team is what makes her special," he said. "She never has bad, bad days. She's always enthusiastic, she's always happy to be in the room. As a coach, that's what you want. She's a great example."
• Leads Utah State in kills during Mountain West play (3.16 per set)
• Carries a 20.8 attacking percentage
• Averages 1.11 blocks per set in conference play
• Earned WAC freshman of the year last season as a middle blocker