The Howard Payne Lady Jackets volleyball team may be sitting at the bottom of the American Southwest Conference West Division standings, but with all-ASC and First Team All-West Middle Hitter Zhartaezia Bradley, anything can happen.
Anything can happen has been a motto for the Lady Jackets and seems a reoccurring theme in Bradley’s life having maintained her status as an elite athlete despite experiencing intense trauma since she was 13.
“Our mentality as a team is anything can happen,” Bradley said. “Last year, it was up and down and the standings were changing after every game. There have been a couple upsets this season already. We’re just hoping we can put together the little things and come together as a team.”
Before coming to Howard Payne, Bradley shined at John B. Connally High School in Pflugerville. Bradley led her 5A team to a district co-championship, was voted district MVP and wrapped up her high school career at the Texas Women’s All-Star Game before attending St. John River State College in Florida. In her first season, and only season, she was named first-team all Mid Florida All-Conference, but said a stalker with a criminal history including attempted murder forced her to relocate — so she came to Howard Payne University.
While other schools focused on strictly on the Xs and Os, Bradley said she felt floored by the notion of her coaches and teammates caring more about how she was doing in life than what she did on the court.
“I wanted to get away from home so I took a scholarship in Florida. There were problems outside of school, me being followed by a guy, so I decided to come home,” Bradley said. “About a week before school started I started reaching out to coaches, but they had scholarships already (given out). One of my best friends was going here at the time. She was a libero and said ‘Why don’t you go D-III?’ So I reached out to coach Carla and that’s how I got here.”
In her first season with Howard Payne, ASC officials named Bradley All-West Division Newcomer of the Year as she was a first-team All-West selection middle hitter. She carried her success into 2017 with another domination season, but the Lady Jackets struggled this season. Following a three-set victory over Sul Ross on Sept. 11 to open conference, the Lady Jackets have dropped their last 10 games.
“ had a lot to do with Cheyanne Lovelady, our setter. She made me a better player and she made me work hard for everything,” Bradley said. “She graduated and McKenna Walker is a sophomore and she actually did set last year, but behind Cheyanne so it’s not that much of a difference... After beating Sul Ross, as a team, we became very confident. It ended up blowing up in our faces because we were overly confident and now we’re trying to end a slump. Being able to play Sul Ross again, I think it will bring that confidence we are missing back.”
The Lady Jackets fell in five sets to Sul Ross Tuesday night in the rematch at the Brownwood Coliseum.
After she wraps up her volleyball career this season, Bradley plans to remain at HPU to finish her studies in psychology. She hopes to one day open her own practice to assist youths overcome the same types of trauma she experienced at an early age. Bradley’s father, Ahmede Bradle,y passed away following a police-related shooting when she was 13. She hopes to offer her future clients the same guiding hand therapists offered her as she grieved.
“Having a tragedy happen at 13, I kind of lost my childhood and had to grow up faster than most kids. I was set on what I wanted to be at an early age of 13 because I was so focused on helping my mom and my family,” Bradley said. “Not knowing Howard Payne was a Christian university caught me off guard. Like most kids, when bad things happen, the first person you blame is the guy above. I was angry with God.
“When I got here I was 100 percent against it and my coach knew that and a lot of my teammates knew that, but they never gave up. They threw ideas out there and once I opened my mind to that, Coach Colleen (Westfall) and her mom Coach (Susan) Westfall both sat me aside and talked to me about why things are like this and helped me understand the Bible and understand God, which has guided me through a lot … My coaching staff had a lot to do with getting me through everything.”