Steady progress on the court and prodding from the coach have helped land Patrick Henry outside hitter Liz Brailsford at a D1 school next year. The volleyball standout for the Patriots didn’t earn any scholarship money from Dartmouth College – they don’t do that sort of thing at the Ivy League school – but despite interest from other colleges where she might have earned a scholarship, Brailsford fell in love with the New Hampshire campus and will head there next fall.
Brailsford played varsity for all four years at Patrick Henry and competed on the JV team while as an 8th grade middle schooler, something she says is not uncommon at PH. “Each year I think about different aspects of my game that have improved,” said Brailsford, who may start out in a pre-med track at Dartmouth. She’s currently in an internship program at Carilion.
Brailsford moved from middle hitter to outside hitter when she graduated from middle school to high school, and that’s the position she is slated to play at Dartmouth. Outside hitters have more room to make plays than do middle hitters, notes Brailsford. “[The switch] was very difficult but each year I got more and more used to it. A lot of times [at middle hitter] you can only really hit a couple of angles. At outside hitter…you can kind of play around with everything.”
She went from learning how to hit the ball properly as a freshman to focusing on putting some power in those hits, which helps to rack up the kills statistics “This year I was focusing mostly on my all around game…sharpening everything.”
Since the 7th grade Brailsford has also played off season in the Roanoke Juniors program, (now a part of Roanoke United Volleyball Club) formerly run by Cave Spring coaches Tamalyn and Mark Tanis. The travel team played tournaments in Raleigh, Atlanta and other cities recently, often against top-notch competition that includes volleyball players earmarked for Division One colleges. “The girls are great and it’s very good volleyball,” said Brailsford. “You get the best competition possible. You’re pushed to play at [a higher level].”
Brailsford said choosing the right college environment was more important than aiming for a volleyball powerhouse where she might not enjoy the atmosphere as much – one torn ACL after all could leave her on the sidelines at a school she might not care for. “I wanted to make sure I was going to [the right] college.”
The thought of being able to play competitive volleyball for another four years however, leaves Brailsford “extremely excited. Everything worked out perfectly for me.”
She also credits Patrick Henry head coach Patty Sheedy for pushing her and the rest of the Patriots, with a no-nonsense approach to practices that is very businesslike and goal-oriented. “She never really allows us to be silly or goof off in practice. We work hard all the way through practice. [Sheedy] will tell you exactly what you need to work on – and she expects you to work on it.”
Brailsford had to adjust to that as a freshman, finding it difficult at first. “Looking back it was a great experience. I had to do what I was supposed to do.” This season the Patriots won the Western Valley District title and made it to the second round of the regionals before bowing out. PH has captured the district title for the past five seasons.
Leaving her Patriots teammates behind was tough. “All of us were great friends and we all had high goals. We wanted to make it to the state [playoffs after regionals].” Even in the last regional loss to Heritage, when assorted players were nursing injuries, “everyone was giving it their all.”
Brailsford said Dartmouth has a “very solid program,” that includes five weeks of preseason training. Two freshmen started for the volleyball team this season, leaving her hope of getting some significant minutes next fall. “I’m willing to go up there and work hard, and see what happens. I really can’t wait.”