Jackson Academy junior Parker Bracken had one of the best days of her life Monday.
She started it off by being selected the Mississippi Gatorade Volleyball Player of the Year and finished it by her future college (she has verbally committed to LSU to play beach volleyball) winning the national football championship.
“I started the day with my mom waking me up and (JA volleyball) Coach (Melissa) Denson on the phone saying, ‘Good morning Gatorade Player of the Year!’ ” Bracken said. “Flash forward to after school and my volleyball team and I ate cookie cake together! Finally at 7 p.m., the national championship game started. It was one of the best games I’ve ever watched! I can’t wait to be a Tiger!”
The Gatorade award recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence, but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the field. The 5-foot-10 Bracken led the Lady Raiders to a 43-3 record and the Mid-South Association of Independent Schools championship. Bracken was named the MAIS Player of the Year and is a five-time All-MAIS selection. She had 648 kills, 517 digs, 120 aces and 37 blocks this season. She has a 3.78 grade point average. Bracken has served as a mentor for elementary school students and has volunteered locally on behalf of Operation Christmas Child and youth volleyball programs. Bracken is the daughter of Mike and Jennifer Bracken.
Bracken is the second JA volleyball player to win the Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year. Conley Chinn, now playing basketball for Belmont (Tenn.) University, won in 2017. Bracken is the third JA athlete to win a Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year. Curt Knight won the boys cross country award twice in 2014 and 2015.
“This is such an honor not only for Parker, but for JA and our team,” Denson said. “She’s the first to acknowledge the abilities of others when she is successful and we’ve had a phenomenal season because of that. JA has been so supportive of our program and girls. Volleyball is fairly new to the MAIS in relation to the rest of our state and Parker has been a part of the varsity program since her seventh grade year. JA has now produced two girls (Parker and Chinn) who received the Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year in the sport of volleyball. I think that’s a true testament to the support of our teachers, staff and administrators at JA. When one of our student athletes is successful the entire JA community gets excited.”
“This award shows how strong our volleyball program is at JA,” Bracken said. “Great players come from great programs. I’ve been a part of JA volleyball for a long time, and without a doubt, this year’s team was our best ever. Though this is an individual award, there are so many people who share in this achievement. My coaches and teammates are the best that I could ask for. We all worked so hard this year. This award shows how JA had its best team this year, and I’m so incredibly happy about how the season ended.”
Bracken and her Lady Raider teammates avenged last year’s loss in the MAIS championship to Hartfield Academy with a straight-set victory over the Lady Hawks at Mississippi College’s A.E. Wood Coliseum in Clinton.
Hartfield ended JA’s four-year reign as state champions and also broke a four-year unbeaten streak against MAIS teams with an upset over the Lady Raiders a year ago. That losing feeling had been eating at Bracken for a year and it wasn’t going away until JA captured the state crown this year. Just like a year ago, JA had beaten Hartfield twice during the regular season.
JA, which was ranked No. 1 in Mississippi among public and private schools by Maxpreps, finished undefeated among MAIS schools. The Lady Raiders’ losses were to Class 6A public school Clinton (they defeated Clinton three out of four times), Class 4A public school Vancleave (they split in two matches) and Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis. JA won its last 18 matches without losing a set and won 37 of their 43 matches in straight sets.
When Bracken isn’t playing volleyball with JA or her select team Infinity, she is cheering. Bracken not only is a JA cheerleader, she is also on the swim team and runs track at JA. Bracken plays on the Infinity 18 Adidas team and is coached by Denson, Infinity owner/director and former Mississippi State coach Jenny Hazelwood and her husband Brian.
Jenny Hazelwood said Bracken is an important part of Infinity’s program and the rise of Mississippi volleyball.
“Parker Bracken was one of the first players to set the standard for high level volleyball play in the state of Mississippi,” Hazelwood said. “Volleyball wouldn’t be where it is today without Parker Bracken and her dedication to the best she could be.”
This summer Bracken plans to go to JA volleyball team camp and then go to California to participate in all of the national beach tournaments in July. She will spend most of her weekends this spring playing beach volleyball.
Although she loves Ole Miss, she chose LSU. Bracken explained why.
“I’ve always been an Ole Miss fan. I still am. I have been going to every home football game every year practically since I was born,” Bracken said. “My first offer was also from Ole Miss, but then I fell in love with the game of beach volleyball. Once LSU offered me I knew there was no other place I would rather go to school. LSU has such an amazing campus, beach coaches and facility. Also, with me loving football, LSU is incredible in football.”
After playing another year of school volleyball in the fall of this year, she will graduate in May, 2021 and head to LSU. She might have classes with some of the players she watched Monday night in the national championship game.