Polk trio doing double duty during winter season

Published 2:48 pm Friday, December 15, 2023

By Jed Blackwell

 

Three Polk County basketball players keep up an unbelievably fast pace.

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They’re pretty quick on the court, too.

Off the court, though, is where Mia Bradley, Kylie Lewis and Charley Dusenbury all shine. They’re among the Wolverines’ many multi-sport players, and all three are actually three-sport standouts – each plays volleyball, with Bradley playing softball and Lewis and Dusenbury on the soccer team.

The volleyball-basketball double is what makes life hectic this time of year, though. All three play club volleyball, which demands some of their time during basketball season. That’s where the girls have to get a little bit creative to make it work.

Take a recent night for Bradley as an example. Her usual Asheville practice was moved, so she “only” had to drive to Airport Road to play with Biltmore Volleyball Academy. Then she had a late trip back.

“It’s difficult sometimes,” she said. “We practice three times a week for volleyball, and on days I practice both, it’s hectic. If we have early basketball practice I go home after, get food, and go to volleyball practice. If basketball practice is late, I end up having to leave early.”

The problem comes with normal things other students face, such as a first-period test following a long practice day.

“That’s the difficult part, especially since I’m driving,” Bradley said. “I can’t just sleep or study on the ride. So it keeps me motivated to get as much studying and homework as I can in school.”

That’s a strategy Lewis and Dusenbury, who both play for Polk County Volleyball Club, have adopted as well.

“I think the most important thing is that it’s schoolwork first,” Lewis said. “It’s the most important thing to me, because I have to keep my grades up. You just have to have good time management. When I’m at school and I have time to do something, I go ahead and get it done so that when I have to go to basketball and then volleyball right after, it’s done. I can get home, take a shower, get something to eat, and then go to bed. It’s a lot sometimes. Mia, with that travel, I don’t know how she manages that.”

Dusenbury said she takes much the same approach.

“What I usually do is try to do my studying and homework while I’m in school,” she said. “Then I go to practice, and sometimes another, and get home around 9. Getting your homework done in school is really beneficial. I’ve learned how to manage it as I’ve gone through high school.”

While the players are concerned about schoolwork and physically getting themselves to their respective sports at the appropriate times, basketball coach Brandy Alm is focused on making sure she makes it as easy as possible for the girls to be effective in both sports.

“I think they understand, because I’ve tried to preach it for years, that cross-training is good,” she said. “Sometimes I think they worry that they’re focusing too much time on one sport, and they don’t want to miss out on another. Sometimes I think they’re really torn. But take Mia, for example. She wants to play volleyball in college. We’re here to help them get to their next goal. So she travels up the mountain a couple of times a week, and we try to stay in-tune with their goals, with what they want to accomplish and achieve.”

To that end, Alm’s husband, Billy, designs different workouts to help each athlete, and Alm herself makes concessions that she’s become used to over the years.

“A couple of years ago, we had the state indoor track championships the same day as a regular-season game,” she said. “We had a player doing both. You hate to lose her, but that’s the state championship. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You don’t miss that.

“They’ve got a lot of academic stuff going on. We work around that. If they feel like it’s too much, if they don’t play their junior year but they want to come back, we welcome them back as seniors. When they miss here or there, as long as I know about it, we work around it. They make up their running, and we all try to work together. That’s why I’m here, really. What can I do to help them?”

The incredible time commitment is daunting, but it’s something that doesn’t seem to bother the players.

“I had to think about it at the beginning of the season,” Bradley said. “Last year was rough with playing both. I didn’t know if I was going to continue playing basketball. But I love this team. I love Coach Alm. It’s my favorite team to play on. The girls are all so nice, and there’s just good energy throughout.”

Lewis said her love for the sport and the team make the time sacrifices worth it.

“I do love basketball,” she said. “There are some different people on the team who I don’t get to see much outside of basketball, and I love being with those people. We’re like a family.”

“It’s nice to be able to share athletes between teams, no matter what we’re doing,” Dusenbury said. “With PCVC and PCHS, our coaches are so flexible and willing to adjust for us, and we know we have to be flexible as players, too. Having great coaches who understand that we’re doing multiple sports at a time is really what helps us, honestly. And it’s nice having Mia and Kylie who understand the schedule.

“It’s easy to grow connections with people. And I’ve played basketball my whole life, since rec basketball. It’s always had a place in my heart. I don’t think I could ever give it up. It’s hard to explain.”

That love – for their team and for the sport – is something Alm is happy to see in her players.

“They put in a lot of work and effort for themselves, but also for their teammates,” she said. “They’ve played their whole lives. If they stepped away, they’d be missing out on something they’ve done forever. They love the game, but more than that they don’t want to let their teammates down. And this is a close-knit team. They’re always together. They’re a fun group, and they’re special.

“Basketball is the longest season, and you spend a lot of time together. You’re together from the end of October through March, hopefully. You’ve got to love it, and you’ve got to love each other. It’s not something you can do halfway.”