Skyview senior Alex West celebrates a point during a game earlier this year.
M. Scott Moon
Don’t get Skyview volleyball coach Sheila Kupferschmid wrong. She’s not about to complain about ready-made players.
The ones that usually have a lifetime exposure to sports and come into high school with a honed athleticism and skill set that puts them on the fast track to varsity stardom.
But it’s a different satisfaction a coach gets from the blank slate. The player who comes into high school having only taken up volleyball in eighth grade. The player who takes to coaching while playing on the C and junior varsity teams, starts to come on as a junior, then becomes a star as a senior.
That explains the special feelings Kupferschmid has for Skyview senior Alex West.
“To me, this is like a Cinderella story,” Kupferschmid said of West. “The girl came in and didn’t have much volleyball experience at all. She was diligent and persistent. ...
“It’s what coaches love to see kids working through the system and the process it takes to mature into a varsity player. That’s what Alex did.”
Shannon West, Alex’s mother, said her daughter just wasn’t into sports when she was younger. In eighth grade, West went out for the volleyball team at Soldotna Middle School and made it, but went out for the basketball team and was cut. So she played Boys and Girls Club basketball instead.
“At first I was shy and I really wasn’t aggressive,” Alex West said of her introduction to sports. “Once I got into it, though, it was fun.
“It really didn’t start out that easy.”
One thing West did have going for her was her height. She was 5-foot-9 in middle school and currently stands about 5-foot-10.
She also has a perfectionist streak in her. West has never received a B in school and currently has a 4.042 in Skyview’s weighted grade point system. She also took third place in the All State Art drawing competition as a junior for “Modified Michelangelo.”
“In anything she does, she’s just personally driven,” Shannon West said of her daughter. “Even in her schoolwork, since second grade, she’s never had to be told something twice. She just does it.
“She’s very coachable and wants to learn. If she needs to change physically by running and lifting weights, she does it.”
While many of West’s characteristics pointed her toward a rapid upward curve in athletics, there was just one the coaches at Skyview had to work on altering a bit.
West is nice. For sports, she might have been just a bit too nice.
“One thing that’s neat about Alex is her relationship with other kids,” said Skyview teacher and track coach Rob Sparks. “She’s modest, humble and generally embarrassed when you compliment her she puts her head down and grins.
“Kids appreciate good-quality kids that are modest.”
As a sophomore, Sparks had West in a world history class and got her to go out for the track team. Both Sparks and Kupferschmid agree the sport did wonders for West’s competitive intensity.
“In her first year (in track) she didn’t have a lot of confidence,” Sparks said. “She’s not competitive by nature. She’s one of those people who learned to be intense.
“Her natural reaction is not to beat somebody, it’s to help them.”
By West’s junior year, West’s inner athlete was on more and more display. She played on a junior varsity volleyball team that went 15-0. In the middle of the year, Kupferschmid saw a quick player with a fast arm swing. West also had developed high contact or the ability to snap the top of the ball at the height of her jump with her elbow above her ear.
“I saw something special,” Kupferschmid said. “With her quickness, high contact and fast arm swing, she had some of the tools that would make her effective her junior and senior year.
“That takes time in the gym. That’s really what Alex did.”
West’s development was delayed when a foot injury nixed most of her junior basketball season. She wasn’t in shape when track started, and then a late thaw stalled the start of her track training.
Still, West got second in the 800-meter run at the Kenai Peninsula Borough meet. She also helped Skyview to first place in the 1,600 relay and third in the 3,200 relay.
At the Region III meet, West took third in the 800. She just missed state. The top 16 get to go, and West’s time was 17th.
“For her, it was mostly mental,” Sparks said. “She realized in her mind she could run the 800 as hard as she could and not collapse. It was a new confidence level for her.”
The summer before her senior year, West attended a volleyball festival in Reno, Nev., attended open gyms and ran and lifted weights.
Then both she and the Skyview volleyball team exploded onto the scene this year. With the six seniors and the underclassmen gelling, the Panthers went perfect in nontournament matches during the regular season before some upsets at the Northern Lights Conference tournament cost them a shot at state.
West earned first-team all-conference honors, finishing second on the team in kills with 162 and also leading the team in blocks. West even expanded her skills so she could serve and play the back row. She ended up serving for 96 points.
“It was a life-changing experience for me,” West said of her volleyball career. “I’m glad I did it. I met most of my friends here playing volleyball.
“It helped me exercise and it helped my work ethic. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Now, first-year head coach Ronnie Kier will depend on West for post play on the basketball team.
“She’s just improved tremendously since last year,” Kier said. “She hasn’t let that injury from last year nag her at all. She’s really willing to get better.”
West said it will then be her goal to make it to state in track. West, who also is the president of the National Honor Society and involved with student council, then plans to go on to study a field related to math and science in college. She’d like a career in something she can do outdoors an influence she picks up from parents Robin and Shannon West, both of whom have a background in wildlife biology.
“The quality of person she is really makes her unique as a human being,” Sparks said. “She’s just somebody people enjoy being around. The quality of person she is makes the whole package.”
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