Distance from home and uncertainty about her own future nearly kept recent South Tama County graduate Shelby Bradley from continuing her athletic career.
STC's all-conference setter battled through an injury in the fall that took her off of the court nearly half of the season. Then she continued her athletic senior year on the basketball court and the track. Before the end of her track season, Bradley made a choice to further her fall sport.
In May, Bradley signed a collegiate letter of intent to play volleyball at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake. Buena Vista is an NCAA Div. III school in the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
"Volleyball is my favorite sport," Bradley said. "The only thing that was holding me back from going and playing was the distance."
She chose Buena Vista over Simpson College and Macalester College (St. Paul, Minn.). Bradley considered attending Macalester for volleyball, but decided she didn't like the distance from her home in Tama.
During the spring, Bradley's mother and coach, Michelle Bradley, took a day to visit Buena Vista and talk to the volleyball coaches. The visit was all Bradley needed to make her college choice.
"It's a really nice campus," Bradley said. "I also met some of the players and they were nice. So I thought I'd give it a try.
"I feel like it's in the middle of nowhere," she joked.
Choosing Buena Vista made her mother happy, too. Michelle Bradley is a Buena Vista Beaver alumnae as she earned her teaching degree at the Storm Lake university.
"I'm a pretty proud momma and proud coach," M. Bradley said. "I just didn't want to be the one to make her do it. She had to be the one to push herself. I graduated there, so her deciding to be a Buena Vista Beaver and play volleyball at the same time; oh my gosh, I was on cloud nine. It was one of those moments where I was like, 'yes!'
"I wasn't ready to be done watching her play," M. Bradley added. "I wanted to see what else she could do for another coach or another team. I wasn't ready for her to be done, but I didn't want to sway her either way. She decided that she wasn't done playing and that she wanted to continue."
S. Bradley helped the Lady Trojans finish the 2012 season with a 15-14 record in the fall. Nearly midway through the season, the Lady Trojans' setter stepped on a loose ball during the warm-ups for the opening match of the STC home tournament. She was sidelined for a month. Despite the injury, Bradley still earned All-North Iowa Cedar League Honorable Mention honors.
"She was at her peak when that injury happened," M. Bradley said. "She was on her way to breaking some South Tama records. That injury put her out for a few weeks, but she rehabbed back and wasn't going to let that ankle hurt her. I was pretty proud of her for getting back into it."
She will continue her career as a setter for the Beavers. She will no longer be setting to teammate and All-NICL first team player Jade Rohach, who will be playing volleyball for Clarke University in Dubuque. However, her knowledge and talent will help the Beavers try to improve upon last fall's 6-26 record.
"In the past they haven't had much success," S. Bradley said. "But the new coaching staff is really intense. I feel like they are trying to change the program around. They have the right recruiting style so I think it will turn around."
Her mother, also her high school coach, is confident S. Bradley has the tools necessary to contribute to the Beavers' squad.
"She's a smart player," M. Bradley said. "I would watch her and she would dump it right there. Then I'd ask her if she knew such and such was open and she'd reply, 'Yeah, I can feel it. Mom I can just feel an opening.' So that was cool. Her awareness on the court, her smarts for the game and knowing when to feed the hot hitter. Also on defensively, she became an excellent read. She also has a 25-inch vertical. That helps a lot."
S. Bradley went through orientation at Buena Vista, enrolled in her classes and met her future roommate two weekends ago. Since then, she has begun her summer workout program for the volleyball team. She will move to the Storm Lake campus in early August.
"I'm excited to be continuing my career," Bradley said. "I'm ready."