Bella Brady: Free Spirited Volleyball Artist
Through whatever lens you view her, Davidson’s Bella Brady stands out on the volleyball court.
Yes, she plays libero, so she’s automatically easy to spot. She’s the one who looks like she zigged when all her teammates zagged and emerged in a white uniform top when everyone else wore red.
She’s also a smiling, bundle of energy bouncing around on an invisible Pogo stick in post-point celebrations. Long-time Davidson basketball coach Bob McKillop told Brady last year that her infectious joy is as close to Stephen Curry’s as anything he’s seen since Curry became an NBA legend and sports icon. It’s not the kind of praise McKillop loosely throws around.
And then there’s the fact that Brady is just really good at volleyball, the kind of player who even new fans quickly notice and especially because she’s a 5-4 force in a land of 6-footers. Thursday, she was named the Atlantic 10’s Libero of the Year for the third time.
Brady’s numbers are staggering, too. With her sixth dig in a 3-2 win at Duquesne on Nov. 10, she became Davidson’s all-time digs leader, and she enters this weekend’s six-team Atlantic 10 Tournament on her home court with 1,933. It’s a number that, for a day-one, four-year starter like herself, could be even higher had her freshman season not been condensed by the pandemic. She leads the A-10 with 5.36 digs per set, 11th-best in the nation.
But what makes her tick? What has gotten her this far? How does she reach some of the balls she does?
Brady admits it’s not by being the most technically sound player. Asked to reveal the key to a good dig, she says, “Staying low, being ready and getting your feet stopped.”
Then, smiling, she adds, “I don’t do that a lot, though.”
Brady plays more like a free-spirited artist than a step-by-step scientist, though her platform, where her outstretched arms contact the ball, is true to target.
“The ball only knows angles, and she gets a good angle on the ball,” says Davidson coach Chris Willis. “You can’t coach what she does.”
In her position, Brady has to quickly read and react, so she relies on her instincts. But even they need to be honed before each match. That’s where the Brady difference comes in.
“I think what I’ve recognized that separates her, from good to great, is her ability to prepare before matches and make changes during a match or after,” says Willis. “She spends time on film watching the opponent, wanting to be in the right place for everybody, knowing their tendencies. These are things beyond our scouting report. She really wants to understand the nuances of each and every person.”
In other words, there’s a science to Brady’s artistry. She doesn’t step onto the court without ingesting all the information she needs to perform at a high level, and once her internal computer has processed all the data, she can freely function. To her, watching film is not just about checking boxes or putting in the time; it’s about truly implementing all the information.
“It all starts with eye work and studying,” she says. “I study for games. I watch hitters, I watch their tendencies, and I usually know … where they’re going to hit the ball in certain situations. I look at their arms, and I know which hitters are more likely to hit the ball super far down when there’s not a block in front of them or which hitters like to paint the ends of the court. So I think knowing the hitters’ tendencies is really important, especially at this level where they have a lot of different shots and swings.”
If Brady hasn’t pinpointed a specific answer through film or the coaches’ game plan, she’s not afraid to ask questions. Often, it’s something like, “Against this hitter, should I set up six feet or eight feet from the line?’
Or it might be inquiring about the opposition’s third-string outside hitter. One time, Brady asked Willis about an opposing setter’s attack tendencies. Willis responded that the setter might attack only once a set, only out of desperation. Brady still wanted to know.
“She wants to know what is going to happen in every scenario,” says Willis. “She doesn’t just want to know the trends. She wants to know the one percent.”
There is one more eye-raising question Brady has often asked Willis. She’s asked it about serving, about setting when the Wildcats’ setter receives the attack, about leadership and doing her everyday job. At the core, it’s been the same inquisition: “What can I do to be better?”
In many ways, that tells you all you need to know about Bella Brady, a psychology major with medical school aspirations.
“It’s the constant striving to be her best which has separated her as a player and a person,” says Willis.