Ben Malakoff, Contributing Writer
Before committing to play volleyball at Memphis, sophomore middle blocker Sabria Cooper was strongly considering playing for VCU. But being from Oklahoma City, Cooper felt more comfortable staying closer to home.
Cooper played one season in 2019 as a Tiger and appeared in 24 matches. She transferred to VCU after her freshman year because of the competitive program and how it was “something she definitely wanted to be a part of,” Cooper said.
“I was actually going to come here my first time around — it was between Memphis and VCU,” Cooper said. “And then I did realize, I really did love it. I wish I had came here the first time.”
When Cooper first arrived in Richmond, it wasn’t just the new scenery that caught her by surprise. She noticed differences between VCU and Memphis during her first practice with the Rams. Her new teammates held each other accountable during practice, and not just the coaches, Cooper said.
“You are held to a much higher standard than I was back at my old program,” Cooper said. “And that’s something I need. I need a challenge. I need someone to push me.”
Encouragement from new coaches allowed Cooper to take her game to the next level.
“She definitely fits in our culture really well,” said head coach Jody Rogers. “She’s a great teammate, and she works really hard and pushes other people in the gym to be better. She adds nothing but value to our program.”
Since starting practices with VCU, Cooper has been playing in the right-side blocker position rather than just middle blocker — the position she’s played her whole career.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do but I haven’t had the coaches to push me or allow me to do that,” Cooper said.
The position change added versatility to Cooper’s toolbelt, allowing her to switch around in games if needed, she said.
“I think that’s something that’s really important for my game because I just need to be put into whatever spot is needed and be good at what I do,” Cooper said.
Rogers came to Cooper with the idea to switch positions, telling Cooper she liked her slide hit and needed it on the right side.
“She’s super athletic so it’s been an easy transition for her,” Rogers said. “She’s very open to whatever needs to be done for the team so she switched over very easily to help us to continue to be successful in that one position.”
Kylie Loftis, a freshman who has played right-side blocker in the past, said she made the switch back to middle blocker when Cooper transitioned to the right.
Since both Loftis and Cooper play the same position, it has allowed them to challenge each other to be better during practice while also continuing to encourage each other, Loftis said.
Loftis and Cooper have connected off the court to help each other adjust during their first year in Richmond.
“Her being from Oklahoma, me being from Texas — even though it’s two different states, we’re both from the south and that part we can relate to,” Loftis said. “In the fall, we were able to bond, even though we didn’t have a season.”
Because both players are new in Richmond, neither suffered VCU’s championship losses during the past two seasons. But when Cooper first arrived, she sensed a new feeling around the program, she said.
“This is a completely new team,” Cooper said. “Everybody is bought in. … That’s what I love about this team. Everyone has their head on straight, and we all want to move forward together.”