MICHIGAN CITY — Slowly but surely, Alexa Sparks is getting back to looking like her old self.
Sidelined about three weeks with an ankle sprain, the Michigan City first worked past the physical part of the injury and now is moving on from the psychological part as well.
"The first one or two practices, it hurt, then it was all just the mental part in my head," Sparks said after Wednesday's sweep of Marquette. "I'd never been hurt before. Last week, I was still working on jumping again, so I wasn't hitting as hard, and I didn't have my hands back so I was doubling more than usual. Now I'm back in the game. It started (Tuesday) against Valpo. I had to come back and show what I had."
Sparks showed her trademark versatility against the Blazers (13-11), racking up 23 assists, seven kills, seven digs and four aces for the Wolves (11-9).
"I thought she looked a lot better, probably the best she has since she's been back," Wolves coach Jim Kaufman said. "Everything's really back to normal. She was struggling with her hitting, getting her timing back and jumping on the ankle. She had a little setting issue, getting her hands back. That just took a couple games. No. 1, the athletcisim she has helps. She and Reece (Shirley) are key for us, like last year with Emily (Kinney) and Reece. It's critical to have them both."
Shirley piled up 19 kills and 13 assists in the win as City cruised after a ragged start that included three missed serves to begin the match.
"We were a little lax," Sparks said, her ankle wrapped in ice afterward. "The second and third games, we started setting goals."
Blazers coach Matt Zima was hopeful of putting up more of a fight versus the Wolves, but Marquette labored to get into its offense from the get go.
"We were missing a middle, Sarah Molina (sick), but that's no excuse. The others have to step up and play," Zima said. "They really took us out of our serve reception. We didn't have much rhythm. I told them this was one of those games where we've got to a dig a lot of balls, block balls, so we had opportunities at second or third chances. Their side-out game was just very good. We gave them too moany free balls, easy attacks. We didn't maix it up like we should. Hopefully, we can at least take something from it and learn."
For Sparks, it's just fun to be back on the floor after having to sit for a stretch with the injury.
"It was a little sad, a little frustrating, but it was good for the younger girls to get to play," she said. "I'd sit next to the coaches and see what they had to say, which can help me when I'm out there. Then when girls would sub out, I'd go over and talk to them to help them know what they were doing. It kept me in the game."
The view from the sideline also gave Sparks a different outlook on matches.
"It definitely gave me a perspective on why you need other players, the group part of it," she said. "Everyone's important to the team."
Aaliyah Briggs contributed nine kills and Micah Ruhe 13 assists for City, while Ryleigh Grott had some strong net player early to keep Marquette close in the opening game.
"Marquette's gotten a lot better," Kaufman said. "Once they saw they could play with them, they knew they needed to step it up."
Michigan City 25-25-25, Marquette 16-11-12
Reece Shirley had 19 kills for the Wolves.