By Lizbeth Solorzano
The shouts and cheers can be heard from outside the gym. Inside, the stands are filled with students, parents, and faculty. The ball flies through the air as she makes her approach. Left, right, left, her feet are in the air, and in one swift motion her arms are over her head before they slam the ball down. It spins as it makes its way towards the deep corner of the court.
Senior Carissa Bradford has played volleyball since she was in eighth grade, when she would often visit and observe the school’s junior varsity (JV) team, coached by her father, Lee Bradford. She would pass a couple balls around when the practice was over. Before, she played soccer competitively, but when high school started, she quit soccer and became serious about her volleyball career.
“My dad played volleyball in college and coached high school volleyball basically my entire life. I was always in the gym watching his teams play,” Bradford said.
When she entered high school, she tried out and was placed on the JV team, but that only lasted two weeks. Tom Harp, the head coach, quickly recruited her to play for varsity.
“There was a real need to put her on varsity as a freshman. She was strong and consistent to be a starter,” Lee Bradford said.
Bradford’s father encouraged her to improve her skills on the court.
“It was his coaching that was an inspiration. Having him as my coach really taught me what it was all about, how to learn how this isn’t just volleyball,” Bradford said.
Alum Sarah Hagge, Bradford’s former teammate, was another inspiration. During her time on the school team, she and Bradford were best friends on and off the court. Hagge was the team captain during Bradford’s sophomore year, and throughout the season, she shared her wisdom as captain with Bradford.
“She was a really good example. She knew when it was okay to laugh and have fun. She also always knew when to be serious. She was always very dedicated and set a great example for me. I learned these qualities from her and also learned how to be a good leader,” Bradford, who is team captain this volleyball season, said.
Being team captain put Bradford in the spotlight, and college scouts have observed her skills on the court. She plays hard and always puts in extra effort to score the point. Several colleges offered her scholarships, but unfortunately, the 17-year-old injured her shoulder and the scholarships were pulled.
Colleges are hesitant to recruit players with injuries for fear of repeated injuries down the line.
However, this has not stopped Bradford from playing. Her coaches encourage her to know her physical limits, which has changed the way she plays the game.
“All of my plans fell through in the summer when I got injured, but it’s motivating me to work harder and snag different opportunities,” Bradford said.
She plans on pushing through high school to focus more on her classes now that volleyball cannot be as strong a part of her personality.
Although volleyball will no longer be such a central part of her life, Bradford is grateful and relieved that she finally has time to spend with her family and try new things like joining the speech and debate team. She still plans on pursuing beach volleyball.
Her injury hasn’t affected her as a captain either.
“They don’t respect me or love me any less. I feel super supported,” Bradford said.
She’s on the mend and trying new medication to improve her injury. She is now using this injury as an opportunity to focus on herself.
“The whole situation made me look inside myself and gave me a better perspective. I realize that volleyball isn’t everything,” Bradford said.