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Bailey Lehr has a unique method for communicating with her teammates.

Much like a coach, the messages and feedback she delivers to her setter, hitters, middles, liberos and back row players are different depending on individual traits. She crafts her communication specifically for each player.

Thanks to her time in the stables, she's learned that horses, and people, all respond differently.

"Just like the horses, each one of my teammates has their own personality. For example, on a horse, you can learn how hard you are on its face with its reins. With a person, it's how hard you can push that person. People have their limits, and so do horses," Lehr said before practice on Thursday.

"I talk to my teammates all differently. I'll only say certain stuff around certain people."

Those messages and methods of communication will be at their most crucial on Saturday in Ainsworth.

Lehr and Scotus Central Catholic volleyball face Chadron for the right to go to state. Scotus hasn't been to the tournament in three years - an extended drought for a program with 15 state championships and 30 total state trips.

"We try and stay stress-free, but there's definitely pressure since we haven't made it for three years now and we're the team to be in position," Lehr said. "Playing in the Scotus volleyball gym, there's always the pressure of making it to state, of always being successful, and when you're not successful and don't make state, you're looked down upon.

"It's been good for us, and us seniors, to come back and have a chance."

Lehr has been doing chores on the farm for as long as she can remember. With a current stable of four horses and a ranch that also includes cattle, she's been in boots, overalls and cowboy hats as far back as she can remember.

In a family where mom grew up with horses, the equine culture has always kind of been in the blood.

These days, she and her little sister help to raise four horses that they take to competitions across Nebraska, and in some cases, nationwide.

Lehr also takes part in barrel racing and rodeo queen contests.

Currently, she's the reigning Nuckolls County Rodeo queen.

"I've been doing it for so long it's hard to describe," Lehr said of barrel racing. "It's intense. Each horse is different. You've got to learn how to ride your horse and what style it is."

All horses she shows and competes with have different events they specialize in and different methods of preparation, just like sports and how she trains differently for volleyball and basketball, she said.

Right now in the fall, they require little work. The four are out to pasture and mostly need just food and water.

As winter approaches, however, they receive extra care in the form of blankets or whatever's necessary to keep them warm.

Lehr's favorite is a palomino the family acquired six years ago with a registered name of 'She's a Royal Twister.'

Just like in horse racing, all registered horses must have a unique name. But Lehr just calls her 'Lilly.'

"She just tries really hard at everything she does. She's an awesome horse," Lehr said. "When we bought her, she was newly trained. She wasn't perfected already. You try to ride her four to five times per week to keep her up to date on her training, and then you just do drills and other things, just like training for sports.

"If you buy a more experienced race where they're 12 to 14, they know their job and they know what they're doing. You don't have to ride them as much unless you're getting ready for a show."

When Lehr is showing her horses, mom's influence is always apparent.

"My mom is the ultimate decorator. The horse tack (equipment or accessories attached or on the horse) is always matching and on point. We always have fancy hats and cute little shirts. She loves to dress us up," Lehr said.

"Usually she likes to pick what we wear unless it's just a little Saturday barrel race."

Lehr could almost compete every weekend in one way or another. There is, in fact, an event on Saturday in Grand Island, but she'll be a little busy.

A lot of the time it's just her and her little sister traveling to rodeos together. During the winter there's a series of competitions every Saturday and Sunday.

Summertime is when the family hitches up the trailer for the national competitions as far away as Texas.

Probably her most important win has been the first-place showings she's had in several state fair events in American Quarterhorse Association competitions.

She and her sister are both eligible for the youth division, but can't be in the same category. As a result, Lehr often competes in the amateur division against much tougher opponents.

Ask to see her belt buckle collection of awards and you could tell she's done pretty well for herself even among some of the best.

Unfortunately, as a student at Scotus, the uniform doesn't include oversized belt buckles. She did though, take the opportunity to show one off last year during 'Cowboy Day' the week of Homecoming.

"My future plans are to go to CCC, or somewhere like that, knock out my (general education courses) and then go on to UNL and join the rodeo team or something like that; the competitive horse team," Lehr said.

"I'm definitely looking into agri-business. I grew up on a family farm. We do it all - ranch, cows, everything. I was born into that, and that's what I'm looking into."

There is, however, one more accomplishment to check off the list.

Lehr was part of the Shamrock girls state basketball championship last season, has a trophy case full of awards as a showman, barrel racer and rodeo queen, but is missing a trip to state volleyball.

"Winning Saturday would be just huge. My Scotus career here for volleyball, we've never made it to state," she said. To do that with some of my closest friends would be a dream come true."

Nate Tenopir is the sports editor for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sports@columbustelegram.com

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