By Joshua Parrott, Sports Writer
As far as head volleyball coach Brek Horn is concerned, Michelle Bernhardt is family.
Bernhardt, a freshman outside hitter from Hereford, played for the same coach in high school as did Horn and her younger sister, Brittney Binder. Michelle went to her first-ever volleyball camp in seventh grade where both Brek and Brittney were counselors. Brek’s mother was a counselor and her father was a teacher at Hereford High School when Michelle was a student.
The only problem was Bernhardt didn’t want to play volleyball; she wanted to play every other sport, too.
“I wasn’t real excited, but my parents wanted me to go,” said Bernhardt, who leads the Wildcats with 359 kills, of the volleyball camp. “I was busy playing soccer, baseball and basketball.”
The difference now is that Bernhardt not only wants to play volleyball, but she wants to win the ultimate goal of a college athlete.
“It has always been my dream to be a national champion,” said Bern-hardt, whose Wildcats are 14-10 overall this season, including 3-3 in Lone Star Conference South Divi-sion play. “Some people might say that’s a little far fetched, but I don’t think so.”
Bernhardt has been a successful athlete since her early high school days. As a sophomore, she started on the Class 4A state championship squad and was named Super Team Newcomer of the Year by the Amarillo Globe-News. The next year, she earned first team all-district honors and was named first team Amarillo-News Super Team. Her senior year she earned first team all-district honors and was named to the all-tournament team at the state tournament.
Bernhardt also earned four letters total running track and playing basketball.
She said she never thought of coming to ACU until the summer before her senior year of high school while playing club volleyball for an Amarillo-area based team.
Even then, Horn saw something in Bernhardt.
“I could tell that she had a great work ethic,” Horn said.
Horn watched Bernhardt play in a club tournament in Austin that same summer and started considering Bernhardt a valuable recruit. By Novem-ber of that year, Bernhardt signed a letter-of-intent to play college volleyball for the Wildcats, despite the fact a number of other schools recruited her.
Bernhardt didn’t expect to be dominating as she has this season.
“I figured I would come in and try to contribute somehow,” Bernhardt said. “I just wanted playing time.”
But she did a little more than just warrant playing time; she flat-out earned it.
Back during the preseason, teammate Lindsey Mar-tin noticed Bern-hardt was a different type of freshman.
“After I saw her practice during two-a-days, I knew that we had a player that could play,” said Martin, a redshirt freshman setter from Sugar Land. “I knew that she was an example we could all look to.”
Bernhardt said she struggled with all of the additional rigors that come with the step up from high school volleyball to the Division II level.
“I was used to some pretty hard stuff in high school, but I never really did a lot of lifting or running,” Bernhardt said. “I had never done plyometrics before either.”
Regardless, Bernhardt followed up on her initial promises from the preseason, earning all-tournament honors at the Texas Womans’ Tournament and the Chap Classic.
Not only has Bernhardt been a leader on the court, but she also knows her limits off of it, especially when it comes to her health and her schoolwork.
Bernhardt, who is currently suffering back spasms and in Tuesday’s win over Angelo State could be seen laying on the court during timeouts attempting to straighten out her back, is honest about not yet being fully acclimated to college life.
“Leaving home was kind of hard, along with going to school and playing volleyball,” Bernhardt admitted. “It’s been an experience.”
Martin said she is excited of the future potential the Wildcats possess with Bern-hardt.
“Her talent and her skill, once we all jell together as a team, will be a key part of our success,” Martin said. “She has a very strong love and drive for the game and she strives to push herself.”
Horn sees Bernhardt as the player that almost got away.
“I’m very glad she’s on my team and I don’t have to coach against her,” said a smiling Horn. “I was afraid she was going to go to West Texas A&M because most of the best girls from that area end up there.”
Horn, for one, knows the value of Bernhardt to the Wildcats.
Call it family instinct.