Lauren Drake personifies the power of second chances
November 28, 2022 by Kevin Nix, Arizona State University
Kevin Nix is an ASU Cronkite School of Journalism graduate student assigned to cover Higley High School for AZPreps365.com.
After six years of year-round club volleyball, Lauren Drake walked away from her favorite sport.
The desire that came with wanting to win and being the best weighed on the Higley High School senior to the point where volleyball wasn’t fun anymore.
“COVID ended our season short,” Drake said of the 2020 season. “I just realized that I just had more fun [without it], I just felt more like a kid. I felt like volleyball didn’t let me be a kid - it took a lot of your time, like you couldn’t hang out with your friends as much because you have practice.
“When it’s not something that you really like anymore, it’s not fun. You wanna go hang out with your friends, so COVID made me realize that I was living better without volleyball.”
Lauren first stepped on the court in fourth grade. As a freshman at Hamilton High School, she made the junior varsity team. It was there that she thrived and made meaningful connections with her teammates.
Before her sophomore year, she went to live with her father and transferred to Higley High School. Her dad, Kenneth Drake, is the boys basketball coach for the Knights.
Lauren needed some convincing from Knights coach Tyler Kraemer to play volleyball again, changing her mindset in the process. Focusing on enjoying volleyball instead of playing to win was the key for Lauren returning.
“We got her to come to one of our open gyms during that summer (after sophomore year),” Kraemer said. “We talked to her. My friend Jessica talked to Lauren, we chatted her up. We talked about how volleyball was with us and how the program was and were like, ‘Hey, why don’t you give it a shot? You see us, you got to know us, you know we’re not psychopaths that are gonna scream in your face, just come check it out.’
“And she came to an open gym, she liked the vibe, met some of the girls, found out the girls weren’t so bad. She came to another one, pretty quickly she really liked it.”
Lauren made varsity immediately upon returning to volleyball as a junior, and as a senior her performance improved further.
She was an outside hitter and a workhorse on the court. She netted 136 kills and 20 aces. She averaged 2.2 kills per set over 63 sets played. She was second on the Knights in multiple statistical categories. The Knights made the playoffs in 2022 after missing them in 2021, so her consistency on the court was a factor which made the rest of the team gel.
It was easy for Lauren to get in the right mental state for her games. She shut off her phone an hour before the game to avoid outside distraction, and she didn’t think about anything else. She watched the junior varsity volleyball team play and she imagined herself on the court with them. Her mindset turned to instinct, eliminating chances for mental mistakes. As a result, any mistakes made easily bounced off her.
The greater goal for Lauren no longer was to play in college at a top level, which lowered her sport-related stress and renewed her love for the game. She played more in the moment, not to satisfy a long-term ambition.
“I felt welcomed and at home here, maybe I do miss being able to get away from school all the time and do something that’s been a hobby for a lot of my life,” Drake said. “I got a long enough break from volleyball for that year where I was like, ‘Okay, this can be fun.’ It was my coach and the staff was just welcoming. I just felt like I would have fun and it wouldn’t be too much for me.”
This mindset change made Lauren a positive influence around her peers.
“Everyone talks to her, she gets along with everyone,” Knights senior Peyton Gawronski said. “She’s super kind, caring, and she’s grown from the first time I’ve met her to now, both personality-wise and volleyball-wise.”
Lauren has no desire to play at the collegiate level. She plans to attend the University of Arizona starting in fall 2023. Her top goal is to become a physical therapist, helping out athletes who are rehabbing from injury.
Giving a sport a second chance is a hard thing to do. Lauren changed her perspective and her time away from the game only served to grow her love for it. That loss and subsequent success made Lauren a better person as a result.
Kenneth Drake has seen Lauren grow every step of the way. He stood by her when she stepped away from volleyball and gave her the resources she needed to return to the game on her own terms. It means just as much to him as it did to her.
“She needed that time off to find the love of the game for herself,” Kenneth said. “She lost a year and a half by not playing, her skills had diminished somewhat, but I was glad that she worked hard to get back in there.
“I am absolutely proud of the person she’s become.”