by Marlys Kruger
MENOMONIE — Former Colfax High School standout volleyball player Nicole Bradford didn’t end her playing days when she graduated four years ago. Bradford went on to a successful career with the UW-Stout Blue Devils as a back row specialist and concluded her college career this past November.
Because of her height (5’ 6), Bradford was tagged as a back row defensive specialist pretty much right after earning a spot on the team as a freshman, playing in eight games that year and collecting six digs. She was fourth on the team in digs as a sophomore with 299 and added 15 assists with one kill, then really found her groove as a junior, finishing second on the team in digs with 348 with 13 assists and four kills. She capped her four years off by leading the Blue Devils from the back row with 453 digs as a senior which was 102 more then her second place teammate, and also increased her assists to 28 and her kills to seven. She was fifth in the WIAC in digs and 20th in service aces and was named Northwest Mutual UW-Stout Athlete of the Week for Week 7 of the fall season. The team finished with a record of 5-23 her freshman year (1-7 WIAC), 15-14 as a sophomore (3-5 conference), 15-15 her junior year (2-6 conference) and after losing to UW-River Falls, ended this year with a 20-10 record (4-4 conference).
Playing only in the back row was somewhat different for Bradford after doing a bit of everything for her Colfax High School team.
“It was a big change but I was excited to refine my skills as a back row player,” Bradford said. “I learned so much from my teammates and coaches. I had a great role model, Megan Shanahan, who was a junior my freshman year and she had been an all around player like me. She was switched to a defensive specialist and was very passionate no matter where she played, and that inspired me to do the same.”
Bradford had to learn time management quickly with practices two hours a day, five days a week. Adding on a tournament just about every weekend during the season along with WIAC games on most Wednesdays and Fridays, the Cross Media Graphics Management major was kept pretty busy.
“I took only 12 credits during the fall semesters because I knew volleyball was going to take up so much of my time,” she said. “I also tried to work part time so it was hard to shuffle everything around to make it fit. But I got so many things out of playing and learned about hard work, leadership, teamwork, commitment, friendship, attitude and a lot more. I have had some of the best teammates and coaches anyone could ask for and I am thankful for that. My love for the game grew exponentially from my freshman to senior year. I played a little my freshman year but it wasn’t a big deal if I didn’t play. I became more competitive as a sophomore and was fighting for a spot on the court. My junior year I started to really focus on making myself a better player for my team and when my senior year came around, we had a new coach and a lot changed. I was named a team captain and I focused on every repetition in practice and tried to be the best I could be. Knowing the routine my last two years made things a lot less nerve racking, too. If anyone is considering trying to play college volleyball, I highly recommend it. It’s hard to get up for morning workouts and commit to playing every weekend, but the reward is absolutely worth it. I have learned so many valuable lessons from playing, I can’t imagine the last four years without it,” she concluded.
Bradford’s first three years were played for head coach Jill Joliff, and her senior year she played for Stout’s new coach, Laura Evans.
“I only had the chance to coach Nicole in one spring season and our regular fall season her senior year,” Evans said. “She made great improvements in her leadership on the court and her sense of urgency when she was playing. She stepped up big time this fall and had a great season. Our team looked for Nic for vocal leadership as well as leading by example. She always came to practice and games focused and ready to work and improve. She held herself to high standards and expected everyone else to as well. She will be greatly missed as a person and player but will forever be a part of our Blue Devils volleyball family,” she added.
After spring semester, Bradford will head to Menomonee Falls for six months to do an internship in her major with Arandell Corporation. She will then return to Stout to complete her final semester of school.