When Bradley volleyball kicked off the 2021 season against Central Michigan on Aug. 27, it did so with one of its most prominent players on the court for the first time in 666 days.
Senior Rachel Pranger may have missed the shortened spring 2021 season due to injury, but she’s certainly made up for lost time. The outside hitter collected 11 kills against the Chippewas on Aug. 27 and led the Braves with 15 kills in their 2nd-most recent match against Northern Colorado on Sept. 17.
“I think we played a lot of teams that are pretty similar to ones in our conference with the physicality,” Pranger said. “It’s just getting us ready to play the rest of the Missouri Valley.”
The absence of Pranger was felt in a big way during the spring season, but the senior outside hitter has picked up where she left off. The 2019 all-Missouri Valley Conference second team selection has helped the Braves through their non-conference schedule, with 60 kills and 95 digs in 11 matches this season.
While Pranger was forced to watch the Braves on the sidelines last season, she stayed involved as much as she could. While she was slowly able to take on a more physical role as her recovery progressed, she made sure to be a vocal presence at every corner of the season.
“It was really hard to just have to watch and sit there and not be able to be dressed up,” Pranger said. “But it was a good thing that I still got to go to everything and be a part of the team.”
Pranger’s start in volleyball has a lot to do with her family. When she began playing, her older sister Megan was still playing at the high school level. John, her older brother, played collegiately at Quincy before playing professionally in Austria and Germany.
“[John] was kind of one that was always there to play with me in the backyard,” Pranger said. “Going and playing [sand volleyball with him] is something that I really loved doing whenever I was younger.”
At Bradley, Pranger united with fellow outside hitter Hannah Thompson, whom she had competed against since middle school. Their first season at Bradley coincided with the Braves’ first-ever postseason appearance, as well as MVC coach of the year honors for head coach Carol Price-Torok.
Pranger has taken guidance from plenty of her teammates along the way, including Thompson.
“My freshman year, I kind of looked up to Sara Maddox, because she also played right side,” Pranger said. “All of the upperclassmen, really – Emma Raleigh last year – and even my roommate, Hannah Thompson, who’s my age, but she had that starting role her freshman year, so I kind of had to look up to her too.”
Pranger’s senior season continues tonight as the Braves travel to Cedar Falls, Iowa to square off against Northern Iowa.