Liz Brenner, left, and sister Mary Claire in MAC Club volleyball uniforms in 2007
Liz Brenner, left, and sister Mary Claire in MAC Club volleyball uniforms in 2007

[Editor’s note: Elizabeth Brenner almost certainly had the best high school career of anyone in Oregon history. The 2011 grad was named Girls Prep Athlete of the Year every year she attended Jesuit High School. She starred in volleyball, basketball, softball and track & field, winning state Player of the Year honors three times and state titles four times. Brenner went on to have similar impacts as a five-sport athlete at the University of Oregon. In February, 2007, before she’d even enrolled at Jesuit, I wrote about her for Take a look back at Brenner before everybody knew who she was…]

When Elizabeth Brenner hit the ball at the Las Vegas Invitational in February, college coaches who weren’t watching her court turned and started paying attention. You could see them looking down at their palm pilots in disbelief. How could someone who hits the ball that hard be a 14-year-old eighth grader?

Brenner’s height – 6-1 – has something to do with the heat she puts on the ball to be sure. So does the fact that she’s been playing up with the older kids for a couple of years now and has a mentor on her MAC Juniors club team in older sister Mary Claire. But unlocking the secret behind Brenner’s astounding power takes a story that comes with strings attached: She has been a force in the racquetball world for many years and is the current World Champion for her age in the mixed doubles and girl’s doubles divisions. 

“I have been competing in the World Championships in racquetball since I was 6 years old,” Elizabeth explained. “My dad used to play racquetball all the time and one night he took me down to the club to watch him play. After that, I just loved the sport.”

Elizabeth’s dad, Doug Brenner, might have gotten her hooked on the game, but she has taken that foundation and run with it. Between individual titles, mixed doubles and girl’s doubles, this gal, who lives in Portland, Oregon, literally has more World Championships than she can count on both hands! She has played in tournaments all over the United States and Mexico, gaining friends, doubles partners and respect along the way. 

Given Brenner’s powerful attacks, racquetball apparently also is a great way to develop your volleyball game.

“Racquetball has improved my hand-eye coordination in all the sports I play,” Elizabeth declared. “When I swing the racket I have to snap my wrist. It is the same concept in volleyball; the wrist snap is what puts the ball down harder.” 

Racquetball has taught Brenner more than a few skills that have translated right onto the volleyball court.

“I have to anticipate the ball; I have learned to have ‘fast feet,’ serve tough, and make adjustments to defeat my opponent,” she explained.

It has also been a way for father and daughter to spend quality time together. 

“My dad plays for fun against me now, but he is getting old so it seems like I always beat him these days,” Elizabeth teased. 

Brenner also plays basketball and led her team at St. John Fisher Grade School to four city championships and their volleyball team to four city championships. Last year, she was voted MVP for her club volleyball team at Multnomah Athletic Club and was nominated for the club’s Athlete of the Year. 

This is the second year that Brenner has played middle blocker on a 16’s team. Yes, that is right – last year she played “up” 3 years. 

“Elizabeth played 16’s last year with her older sister, Mary Claire, and they had 2 wonderful coaches, Sandra and Karl Usher,” said Mom, Jennifer Brenner. “It was fun and easier to have our daughters on the same team and the same court.” 

Having Elizabeth play in older age divisions was not an easy decision for her parents. 

“We thought long and hard about this,” Jennifer Brenner acknowledged. But having Elizabeth play girls at her skill level and getting the best coaching was more important to them than playing with athletes her own age. “There is more pressure to perform at this level and she has to act mature,” her mom admitted, “but these older girls are like big sisters to her.”

Even though there are a lot of expectations on a young talent like Elizabeth, her parents are careful to schedule some down time. 

“When she attends out-of-town tournaments, she always stays in our hotel room,” Jennifer Brenner explained. “We just want to make sure that she gets to bed and is well rested for the next day’s game.”

Brenner’s parents don’t worry about their daughter burning out. 

“Elizabeth loves what she does and when she has a night off, she is restless and would like to be playing any sport,” her mom confided, saying that Elizabeth also loves softball and swimming! “Elizabeth still sleeps in every chance she gets and she loves watching movies, going to the beach, or just watching sports on TV.”

As you can imagine, this rifle-armed lass already is attracting the attention of college recruiters. 

“The college coaches are excited to find Elizabeth,” Jennifer Brenner shared modestly. “They are watching her progress and grow as a volleyball player.” 

When the time comes, Mom and Dad would love for Elizabeth to pick a school close to home, but she seems to be drawn to the sun and sand. No rush…Brenner does not graduate until 2011!  For now, she has her sights set on continuing her impressive performance as a freshman at Jesuit High School, one of the state’s traditional powers.

So keep one eye on Brenner over the next few years. This is one kid who knows what it’s like to go balls to the wall!