This story was written by Neil Frawley.
Bump. Set. Out for the season.
Valdosta State senior, Krista Bradford, had what she worked so hard for, torn from her on Sept. 5 in a match against Lynn University.
The senior leader of the volleyball team suffered a torn ACL, partial meniscus pathology and an MCL strain, according to Tracy Llewellyn, VSU’s assistant athletic trainer.
The injury occurred as Bradford ran and dove after a ball that would have fallen out of bounds.
“I jumped up, and when I landed I immediately heard it snap and just knew something was wrong,” Bradford said. “The pain was the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life, but I wanted them to pull through and win, so I stayed in and watched them play.”
Senior outside hitter, Jenna Kirkwood, recognizes how much of a loss Bradford is to this team.
“It’s been really hard, because she’s the heart of the team,” Kirkwood said. “She cheers us out every play. She addresses the team before and after practice. She’s always been the leader of the team and for her to go down… I think everybody got worried.”
Bradford will be redshirted since the injury occurred early in the season.
“I think people recognize her as a team leader, and to have that coming back again next year when we’re going to be very young, after graduating (five) people is really encouraging,” said Swan. “It’s always hard to lose a player to a season ending injury. She worked so hard to be in her best shape ever, and was contributing as an all around player, not just a DS (defensive specialist). So it’s disheartening, but she has a great mindset and a great competitive spirit that makes her want to come back next year.”
Despite the injury, Bradford still shows her commitment and dedication to the squad. She attends practices, sits on the sidelines during matches giving her teammates tips from the bench, and has gone on every road trip.
“She’s still playing that role (as team leader) — she’s just not on the court,” said Kirkwood. “We still wait for her to cheer us out.
“We didn’t think she was coming to West Florida (University). We were all about to text her like ‘we’re going to miss you.’ And then she showed up and we were like ‘Yeah, Krista!’”
The team, Bradford included, made the 12 hour round trip drive to UWF on Tuesday.
“When I went down, my initial thought… wasn’t about the pain, it was like ‘I’ve been playing with these girls for years now, and we had the team to win it and we were working hard, and now everything’s kind of gone,’” Bradford said. “That’s why I’m traveling with them, to let them know I still have their backs.”
Bradford’s passion for volleyball began after watching her own parents play church rec league when she was growing up.
“I was six years old, but I was mad because they wouldn’t let me play because (they said) I was too small, and too young,” said Bradford. “But I would scream and cry on the side lines, and say ‘But I’m better than them, let me get on the court.’ And so that’s how I fell in love with the game, was watching my parents play some church volleyball.”
The Columbus, Georgia native began playing with a club volleyball team with girls who were all older than she was when she was in eighth grade. From that point it became her dream to play volleyball collegiately.
While being at a height disadvantage, Bradford succeed at making her dream come true, turning down other offers to play at VSU after visiting the campus.
“I had heard of Valdosta,” Bradford said. “My dad lived here when he was young, and so it wasn’t something that I didn’t know of, I just had never been on the campus. So I had other schools offering, but I decided to come visit here, and fell in love with it. The gym, the campus, everything that they (were) doing… just made me want to play here.”
When Bradford arrived on VSU’s campus was when she began forming the bonds with several of the current senior members, including Ashley Lala, Brittany Smith and Destiny Berry.
“It was actually a challenge, because every new coach, they’re responsibility is to rebuild a team,” Bradford said. “So of course there are a lot of changes… (There was) fighting for that spot on the team, and then there was fighting for playing time knowing that (Swan) has other good girls coming in. It was probably one of the most challenging things, as far as volleyball, I’ve ever had to deal with.
“It’s really been hard emotionally to be away from the girls that I’ve become so close with, and the sport that I’ve grown up loving. It’s probably been the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through in my life. But it’s only going to make me stronger, I know in the end. Even if I do struggle at times, it’s going to be a big battle, and a big war and that I have to overcome all the pain and everything.”
Bradford has already been working with the training staff to strengthen all that she can before having surgery on her knee so that she is ready to go as soon as the season begins.
“Next year it will be my time to step up and be that senior leader (and) I’m going to be able to say I worked my butt off to finish my college dream,” said Bradford.