SportStars Magazine

Smash Hit

Story by JIM MCCUE | Photos by JAMES K. LEASH

Hardwood is in Alexa Edwards’ genes, and she grew up on gymnasium floors. So it is no surprise that the Sacramento resident made herself at home on the volleyball court in 2016 to earn Freshman All-American honors from MaxPreps.

“Her talent sets her apart, but her volleyball IQ was higher than a typical freshman because she grew up around the game,” St. Francis volleyball coach Alynn Wright said. “With her parents as athletes and coaches, she understands all of the little things.”

The little things led to some big numbers for Edwards in her first year at St. Francis-Sacramento. She led the Troubadours with 526 kills and 425 digs, and added 51 blocks and 30 aces. After a slow start to the season, St. Francis advanced to the Sac-Joaquin Division I semifinals and the Northern California semifinals. More importantly, Edwards and the other returning players finished strong and gained confidence for the upcoming season.

“We were already talking in the halls last year about what we can accomplish this year,” Edwards said. “We feel that the core of our team has the potential to improve enough to go for a state title.”

Edwards will be a key to any league, section, or state title run for the Troubadours despite being just a sophomore in 2017 — a rare occurrence for players under Wright at St. Francis. In recent history, Gabby Palmieri and Zoe Nightingale logged serious playing time as underclassmen, but Edwards is no stranger to playing well against older competition.

Growing up, Alexa spent plenty of time on the volleyball court while her mother, Cathy, coached. After a successful college career and some professional play, Cathy Edwards coached at various levels, including a stint as an assistant at the University of the Pacific in Stockton when the Tigers claimed a pair of NCAA national titles in 1985-86. A young Alexa would help out at practices and got exposure to the game that she would eventually fall in love with.

Despite her parents both having professional sports experience — Franklin Edwards, Alexa’s father, was a first-round draft pick of the Philadelphia 76ers and won an NBA Championship in 1983 — she says that they passed along athletic genes and a love for the court, but never pressured Alexa to follow their paths in athletics.

“My mom always said, ‘Don’t play volleyball for me, just play for yourself,’” Alexa said. “They have been really helpful with sports through the years, and taught me to stay humble.”

Alexa credits some of her success to her dad’s long arms and her mom’s hitting prowess. That combination has helped to make her one of the top high school outside hitters in the class of 2020. But athletic genes alone have not made her the success that she has become.

“She knows that you have to work hard and train hard,” Wright said of her talented hitter’s accomplishments thus far. “She does the work that is not as fun as playing. But because the game itself is fun, she loves to train.”

And that work ethic is not lost on her coach or her teammates. Wright credits Edwards’ work in the gym and weight room for a stronger team work ethic. Others see Alexa’s hard work every day and they want to follow her example, according to the Troubadours’ coach.

“To some degree, she had a leadership role as a freshman because she worked so hard that others follow her,” Wright said. “She is never satisfied with where she is and always wants to improve.”

Edwards’ quest for improvement continued this summer as she helped the Rage club volleyball team reach new heights. Her club team qualified for the USA Junior Nationals in Minneapolis, where the Rage competed in the Open Division and finished 13th in the country.

With conditioning starting for St. Francis and practices right around the corner, Edwards and the Troubadours are preparing to be a team no one will take lightly. St. Francis has won 12 SJS titles, but has not appeared in a section final since making four consecutive Division I finals from 2011-2014. The Troubadours last won a SJS crown in 2012, but most see a team on the rise with realistic Delta League and SJS title aspirations.

In addition to Edwards, St. Francis returns middle blocker Aiyu Aimufua, who has committed to Penn, and setter Madelyn Schildmeyer. The 6-foot-2 Aimufua led the team with 106 blocks and added 206 kills as a major force in the middle, and Schildmeyer recorded 953 assists at a rate of 8.5 per set. Another senior returner will be libero Aubrey Kenny, and junior Kathryn Kramer provides power both inside and outside for the Troubadours.

“We finished the year strong, so the girls got a taste of success in the postseason and they want to play for state,” Wright said of the rising expectations. “There is a lot of work to be done, but we are eager about the possibilities.”

The recognition of a program attempting to return to prominence and of a player rising to the top of her class nationally is nice, but the Troubadours and Edwards understand that expectations can only be met with a focus on the present.

“We always focus on one game at a time, and try to learn from each match, win or lose,” Wright said. “We don’t want to look down the road and miss the details along the way.”

St. Francis has scaled back the preseason slightly for 2017 — out are multiple tournaments facing the likes of Mitty and other state powers — because the Troubadours know each other and their strengths and weaknesses better than a year ago. So, with a new season on the horizon, Wright expects to build on what she knows she has, and to work toward another strong finish.

“Everyone is working hard and has a renewed desire,” the veteran coach said. “We want to play well in tournaments and league, but, more importantly, we want to peak at the right time.”

And with a talented star with the physical tools and mental desire to lead the way, the hardwood can continue to be a welcoming home for Alexa Edwards and the St. Francis Troubadours.

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