A promising start put together by the Colorado volleyball team a year ago was sabotaged by a season-ending suspension to the club’s top offensive player, Leah Clayton.
Yet the Buffaloes suffered a more under-the-radar but no less devastating loss weeks earlier when Sterling Parker was forced to undergo shoulder surgery.
After racing to a 9-0 start last year, Parker could only watch as her teammates struggled to a 6-14 mark the rest of the way, including losses in six of the final seven contests. Sent to the sideline due to a torn labrum, Parker attempted to make the most of her season. Yet as CU continues preseason practices ahead of the Aug. 26 opening day with home matches against Green Bay (10 a.m.) and Western Michigan (7 p.m.), Parker’s return to form could provide a huge boost for a team eyeing a rebound season.
“It was tough, especially my first year as an upperclassman,” Parker said. “I was excited to get back into it but I had to get surgery. It was kind of the last resort. I knew I needed it. I’m glad I got it. My philosophy was if I couldn’t be on the court, I’m going to be the best teammate off the court I could be. I kind of became a pseudo-coach in a way. I learned every position. I tried to be able to coach my teammates up in whatever they were doing if they came to me for help.
“Especially being an upperclassman, I think that helped a lot. It just helped me fulfill that leadership role. And I threw myself into the gym, and into school and my legs. I was only doing legs for a while, making sure that when I was able to be back, that I wasn’t going to be behind in anything at all.”
Parker started every match for CU as a true freshman in 2019, earning a spot on the Pac-12 All-Freshman team while also receiving honorable mention honors for the primary all-conference team. Parker also was named a Freshman All-American by volleymag.com.
A 6-foot-2 combo hitter and middle blocker, Parker still started every game for the Buffs in the delayed 2020 season played in early 2021. But the injured shoulder limited Parker’s effectiveness, as Parker’s hitting percentage dropped from .270 as a freshman to .217.
About 11 months removed from the surgery that robbed her of the 2021 season, Parker has been a full participant, pain-free, during the preseason and is expecting a return to her 2019 form. If that happens, Parker will bolster an attack that also is set to feature experienced hitters like Maya Tabron, Jill Schneggenburger, and Jahara Campbell.
“She’s healthy for sure. She’s just got to get back in the swing of things,” CU head coach Jesse Mahoney said. “She still has to progress her shoulder through some stuff. She’s probably our best physical player. One of our best athletes. Certainly one of our best blockers. And if she can attack the ball and her shoulder is where it needs to be, she was an All-Pac-12 Freshman player. We just haven’t had her healthy since. Hopefully we can get another All-Pac-12 season.”