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How Serena Sparks looks to make her mark in final season

Senior Serena Sparks gets ready to serve versus St. Thomas. Photo by Jenna Zeise.

Senior libero and defensive specialist Serena Sparks is looking to win a championship and help guide the underclassmen through their first years in her final year on the Bradley volleyball team.

Sparks, a nursing major from Kansas City, has a nice resume for her career thus far. As a sophomore, she was named Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Week and recorded at least 20 digs in 11 games. Since then, she has only increased her production.

Already this season, Sparks joined the 1,000 digs club on Aug. 27. She is one of six active players in the Valley and 19th in Bradley history with 1,000 digs. To her, stats are just a number, as she looks to add to the team as an experienced senior.

“I couldn’t care less about stats or how many digs I get,” Sparks said. “That stuff doesn’t matter to me as long as my teammates are doing well.”

Senior leadership is something that Bradley is looking for, with only four seniors on the team. With seven underclassmen, the influx of youth is being led in the right direction, according to head coach Alicia Williams.

“[Sparks] has a servant heart,” Williams said. “She’s willing to help even if it takes away from what she’s doing. That’s huge for them to feel comfortable with her.” 

As a libero, Sparks does not receive as much recognition with the blocks and kills other players earn on the court. In volleyball, the libero plays solely in the back row and must play the entirety of the set. The term comes from the Italian word meaning “free”. 

Many people say libero is the most underrated position, and for good reason. As the last line of defense, they are relied on heavily by their coaches, but their success is based largely on how their team does. That’s why Sparks’ focus on her teammates holds even more importance.

In her Bradley career, Sparks has averaged 3.62 digs per set and passes very well. Williams believes that the passing game is a strong suit in her style of play.

“For us, that’s an area where we feel like we’re pretty strong — not necessarily defense, but passing for sure,” Williams said. “When she goes behind the line, I feel very confident that she will hit her serve with aggression in the right spot.”

In Sparks’ last year as a Brave, she looks to make a final run at a Valley championship in November. Bradley lost to Indiana State in the 2021 quarterfinals, but they hope to bounce back and take it a step further this season.

After the season is over, Sparks plans on returning home to Kansas City with her family and hopefully landing a job in nursing.

“As of right now, I think I want to do travel nursing for a couple years, but we’ll see where that goes,” Sparks said.

Sparks and the Braves are set to take on Illinois-Chicago tonight in Renaissance Coliseum.

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