When she tries, Sidney Parker can still remember the emotions, the mental toll it took to watch her best friend crumple to the ground with an injury that looked serious before any official diagnosis. It wasn’t just that Maddi Wilcox was in pain. It was also the opponent, the circumstances.
This was on Oct. 8, when Parker’s Madison volleyball club visited Thunder Ridge for a rivalry contest. The Bobcats were roughly a month removed from losing senior Charity Wilson to a season-ending foot injury, but they had just taken a set from defending 5A state champion Thunder Ridge.
Catastrophe struck when Wilcox fell, lying on the ground with what turned out to be a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus. Thunder Ridge won each of the next three sets. Madison left shellshocked. Parker wept.
“Just trying to gather up my emotions and lead the team,” Parker said. “It was hard.”
Soon enough, though, Parker changed her perspective. Everything happens for a reason, she told herself, so she decided she would become more assertive — on offense and defense, but also in the leadership department. She was the only senior on the court, after all. She didn’t have much of a choice.
Parker is the Post Register’s All-Area Volleyball Player of the Year, in large part, because of what she did next.
For the season, Parker totaled 54 aces, 506 kills, 475 digs and 97 blocks, leading a depleted Madison team to the 5A state tournament, where the Bobcats topped Eagle in the consolation match and secured the most unlikely of finishes.
“I feel like I was relieved after we won that, just because I didn’t let Maddi and Charity down,” said Parker, the High Country Conference’s Co-Player of the Year. “They were hurt and I didn’t want to go away without any trophy or anything. So I basically just played for them. I thought it ended really good.”
The story of the 2020 Madison volleyball team is incomplete without Parker, most obviously, but particularly without the way Parker turned herself into a complete player.
It starts with her offense. That much is clear. She averaged 12 kills per match.
“When I go up to hit the ball I think, ‘This is going down, and if it doesn’t, I’m at least breaking someone’s nose.’ I love offense,” Parker said.
Ask around, though, and you realize that Parker took Madison so far because she made her defense a calling card.
The story of how she did so starts before the 2019 season. Parker had just completed her freshman and sophomore campaigns, but something bothered her about her role in those years.
“I was so (upset) that I couldn’t play back row so I decided I’m going to buckle down at practices and work on my defense, so I can play all the way around and be an all-around player,” she said.
That she did. She played all over, really, but it didn’t always matter because Parker had so few holes in her game. After Wilson went down, Madison rattled off four straight wins, including three over Highland and one over Rigby.
“After that, she was like a different person,” Madison coach Meranda Maestas said. “She started leading in a different way, and I think she was more encouraging and really focused on bringing those younger kids up to her level.”
In several ways, development tells the tale of Parker’s career. Earlier, she says, she felt timid. She thought everyone hated her, even her teammates. “I was kind of like this shy person. I didn’t really talk,” Parker said.
She was reserved for two years — the lone exception might be Parker’s sophomore season in 2018, when Maestas remembers Parker getting vocal in the state championship match — which is less about her being quiet and more about her feeling uncomfortable in the spotlight. When Wilson and Wilcox were healthy, Parker felt comfortable conceding the leadership duties to her younger teammates.
Soon enough, that changed. Instead of pushing her teammates to play better, she began encouraging them. She was no longer a shy underclassman. She was a senior, a leader, the best player in the area.
Now, she has officially earned recognition as such.
“It was just a struggle,” Parker said. “We were fighting injuries, fighting Covid. I’m glad we pulled it off at the end. It just took a lot of heart and focus.”