JANESVILLE — There are students of the game, and then there’s Bree Thompson.
Janesville’s 5-foot-11 senior studies film after each volleyball match, routinely filling a notebook page with areas for growth. Content is one word that’s not in her vocabulary.
“I’m very hard on myself as a player, which is good and bad,” Thompson said. “When I watch film, there’s always something I can be doing better.
“I write down stuff that I need to work on and I focus on those things during practice. The game is a game of mistakes, but technically how we do things can be changed.”
Thompson certainly has done plenty right throughout her high school career. The powerful outside hitter has been named a Class 1A first-team all-state selection each of the past three seasons with those campaigns culminating in state championships.
Last fall, Thompson earned Class 1A Player of the Year accolades and was named captain of the all-tournament team. Her 1,612 career kills rank among the top 15 on Iowa’s all-time chart since QuikStats reporting began in 2007, and Thompson is on pace to finish among the top five.
“She’s very strong and was a big hitter for us her freshman year, and has just grown and developed into a very consistent player,” Janesville coach Shelly Sorensen said of her program kills leader. “Our setters are able to find her in crucial moments in a game. She’s a big go-to person for us. She’ll hit out of the front row or the back row.”
The competitive mentality it takes to find success in athletics has been ingrained within Thompson from a young age. Her aunts on her dad’s side, Katie and Kara, played collegiate volleyball, while her mom, Tracy, was a strong high school softball player.
Bree’s dad, Tolly Thompson, grew up in Janesville and went on to win a wrestling national title at the University of Nebraska. He competed internationally, placing third at the 2005 World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, and has coached at the collegiate level for more than a decade.
Bree is the middle child of three girls, with her older sister Payton playing alongside her on the Wildcats’ 2015 title team. Her younger sister, Kendall, is an active junior high volleyball player.
“It impacted me a lot,” Bree said of her family’s athletics background. “I always strive to be the best, and then I looked at the things that they have done. My dad has accomplished a lot, my grandpa (Leonard Thompson) wrestled at Iowa State.
“They’re my biggest motivators. They break me down when I need it, and they push me back up most the time.”
Mental toughness is a trait Thompson says she’s taken from her family members’ wrestling background and applied to volleyball.
“It’s all a mindset,” Thompson said. “I tell that to my sister and other players on the team. You are the biggest person that breaks you down. You have to have the right mindset to be able to overcome those challenges.”
In addition to growing up in a volleyball community, Thompson has developed through club competition since age 10. She’s played in national indoor tournaments with the CIA Juniors, and last summer traveled to California to compete in a national 2-on-2 beach volleyball tournament.
“Sand is a very smart game,” Thompson said. “You have to use shots rather than swinging full all the time. I learned a lot of new shots. I think my sand game has impacted my indoor game. It makes you jump higher. It makes you quicker.”
Thompson is one of three seniors on Janesville’s team who have started since their freshman year. Two additional seniors are among the starters in this year’s rotation.
This Janesville senior class learned to win at a young age. Thompson can recall in eighth grade how they’d often dig early holes and battle back.
Not much has changed.
This fall, 1A’s top-ranked Janesville (31-3) has not only continued its dominance against small schools, but owns wins against large school giants like Class 4A No. 3 Independence and 5A No. 7 West Des Moines Dowling. Janesville captured its third weekend tournament title Saturday in Charles City.
“We know when we have to pick it up and what we have to do,” Thompson said. “We trust each other. That trust we have from experience has helped us come out on top those games where we were down and came back.”
Thompson has received interest from multiple NCAA Division I programs with a couple visits remaining on her schedule. She hopes to commit soon, and would become the fourth Janesville volleyball player within the past five years to secure a DI scholarship.
The senior says collegiate coaches often chuckle when they find out there’s only 25 students in her class. Janesville has become small town filled with volleyball players accomplishing big things.
“It’s just what you do and how you go about it, how big you set your goals,” Thompson said. “We all have that mindset that we want to do this and we know how to get there by working hard.”