There were times when Ali Bronson wondered if she’d ever make it all the way back, whether she could return to the form that made her perhaps the county’s most dominant volleyball player the past two years. As a freshman, she had 118 kills. Then came another 289 as a sophomore. Each year, her Hernando High team won a district championship.
But following offseason surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and labrum in her right shoulder – and she’s right-handed – returning to the court proved a difficult journey. “Physically, it was very hard. Pushing myself; it hurt,” Bronson said. “The mental part is what got to me. I was definitely disappointed when I’m supposed to be reaching my peak and this was like starting over. … I definitely had to pray a lot and ask God to give me strength… My first practice (after surgery) I was in tears thinking I’d never be the level of player I was before.”
Even at the beginning of this season, Bronson wasn’t completely feeling 100 percent. But, she said, the strength in her shoulder has improved while the discomfort has gone away. Next week, the Lady Leopards (11-8) will attempt to earn their third straight title as the third seed in the Class 5A, District 7 Tournament. Bronson has 201 kills, 43 aces and 557 digs this year. “Definitely all our girls know we’re capable of beating anyone,” Bronson said. “We have some kinks to work out by next week to get to the number one spot. Our district is tough as a whole, but I think the talent is there. We just have to do it. “I don’t think I’m as strong as before. But as far as mechanics, I’m very close. I’m not using that as an excuse.”
A year ago at this time, Bronson admits she was in excruciating pain. She essentially played the entire season with the bum shoulder, opting to delay surgery. In the meantime, the injury grew worse. “Yeah it was painful, but we won the district and went to regionals, and I got to play with some of my best friends who were seniors,” Bronson said. “That experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.”
Finally going under the knife did cost her all of basketball and softball season, and most of her club volleyball season. During her freshman year, she tore a ligament in her ankle early in the basketball season. As a result of the two major injuries, she’s only played six games of hoops and yet to appear on the diamond in two years at Hernando.
She hopes to fully participate in both sports this time around, as well as her first full season of club volleyball in order to reach her full potential. “I don’t feel like I’ve quite reached that yet,” Bronson said. Still, she has an opportunity to make more out of the current campaign if she can guide the Lady Leopards through another strong postseason run.
“I think she’s having a good year. Her stats are good. I know she always thinks she can do better. She’s always trying to achieve more,” Hernando head coach Robin Bailey said. “She’s maturing more, especially coming off that surgery… The drive and competitiveness she has inside; that’s just something that comes natural, and if everybody had it, it’d be wonderful. But she has the competitive drive that she’s always pushing to achieve better.”
That drive could lead her to accomplishing another goal, playing at the collegiate level. However, she said she’s most concerned with receiving a good education. With another prep season remaining, she still has time to sort out that decision and add to an already impressive resume. “Next year we’ll pretty much have the same exact team. We’re hoping to build off this year,” Bronson said. “I’m hoping to reach my full potential. I’m hoping to stay healthy. I’m going to work hard over the summer so I can perform my part on the team.”