by Jordan Roy-Byrne
An athletic family background can be immense burden for the youngest in the family - just ask Husky junior Alexis McDonald.
Her father, Glenn McDonald, won an NBA championship with the 1976 Boston Celtics, while her brother played basketball at Stanford. Despite the success stories all around her, however, McDonald says she never felt pressured to pursue a career in sports.
"I was never into sports," she says. "I just did normal girl activities like ballet and dance."
Remarkably, McDonald avoided sports entirely until her freshman year at Long Beach (Calif.) Poly High School, one of the nation's most renowned prep sports powerhouses. McDonald's decision to enter the athletic arena, however, was not rooted in any desire to excel in athletics. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
"At my high school, if you played a sport, you didn't have to take physical education," she says. "I didn't want to take PE, so I decided to tryout for the volleyball team."
Her athletic genes awakened, McDonald found instant success on the court, leading Poly to a 70-12 record during her four-year career. McDonald attracted much attention from college coaches, and was named one of the state's top-50 prep athletes as a senior.
"I honestly don't know how it happened," McDonald says of her athletic prowess. "It was a surprise to everyone, as well as myself."
Washington's coaches overcame their surprise fast enough to offer the talented McDonald a scholarship, which she readily accepted. Having dominated the prep ranks on talent alone, McDonald redshirted the 2000 Husky season to further develop her skills.
The player who had experienced overnight success in high school struggled in her first year at Washington, undergoing knee surgery while her team limped to an 8-19 overall record.
""I was only 17 years old when I came up here," she points out. "Coming up here at such a young age forced me to grow up and immediately broaden my horizons both on and off the court."
McDonald appeared in five matches the following year, with a hitting percentage of .429, before an unusual foot injury brought her first collegiate season to an abrupt halt.
"I chipped off a bone in my foot, and we didn't discover it when it first happened," she says. "The bone was actually stuck in a ligament."
McDonald bore down in the training room during the offseason, wanting to be a part of the resurgence of UW volleyball, which she felt was on the horizon. McDonald earned the starting spot at middle blocker in the preseason and didn't disappoint, leading the Huskies to 20 wins and a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Her average of 1.22 blocks per game ranked fourth in the Pac-10 Conference, as McDonald proved to be a defensive force in the middle.
"She has made so much progress since the day she got here," head coach Jim McLaughlin says. "As she continues to apply the mechanics of her position, she is only going to get better."
Despite their breakout season in 2002, the Huskies were picked to finish sixth in arguably the toughest conference in the country.
"We know the Pac-10 is the most competitive conference," says McDonald, "but we feel we can finish in the top-three and make another deep run in the NCAA Tournament."
Much like her team, McDonald feels she still has a lot to prove.
"I want to improve my play," she says. "I want to make the All-Pac 10 team to prove to myself that all the hard work I've done here has paid off. I want to show people that my injuries haven't affected how I can play."
McLaughlin, who in two years has helped put Husky volleyball back on the map, has high hopes for McDonald.
"Alexis clearly has the most talent on our team, and she has the potential to be the dominant middle blocker in the conference," he says. "That is really how you win championships in this game, with a dominating middle blocker."
If the first 11 matches of this current season are any indication, and the Huskies won't have any trouble proving themselves this season. A team-record 11-0 start, including wins against 17th-ranked Wisconsin and No. 16 Arizona, has the Huskies at Np. 13 in the nation and poised for another deep postseason run.
Pundits ignored the Huskies in 2003, just as McDonald ignored her natural athletic talent. Fortunately for the future of Washington volleyball, it looks like two wrongs can, in fact, make a right.