Becoming a top-notch defensive player, in any sport, takes more than just talent. It takes heart and a desire to bring a lunch pail at every stop.
Throughout her freshman season, Alexa Ball proved herself as the type of player who fits the mold of the Madison Smith's, the Madison Knipp's and the Stacia Martin's of the program.
Ball, however, knows that her future production will rely on maintaining the work ethic that her predecessors on the backline kept throughout their college careers.
The sophomore, one of four players on the 2019 squad to play in all 35 matches and 131 games during the season, is back to head Shawnee State's defense in her second season as part of a group filled with potential under new head coach Devan Scarberry.
For Ball, the opportunity to simply play college volleyball for the school that she represents is an honor.
"I was really excited to get picked up by Shawnee State and play for them," Ball said. "It has been a honor and they have all been so welcoming to me. From Day One, it has felt like home."
From the start, it was clear that Ball was going to have a bright future playing the sport of volleyball. To prepare adequately for the rigors of what the game would bring her, Ball played six years for the River Cities Thunder, a volleyball club formed by former Marshall University head coach Mitch Jacobs, and a year for the Mountain Monsters under West Virginia State head coach Kris Kern.
"I loved playing travel ball because I learned so much, and it always kept my hands on the ball," Ball said. "I've been to lots of tournaments over the years and have enjoyed every one of them."
That preparation helped Ball, as well as her high school teammates, greatly. At Spring Valley, Ball led the Timberwolves to unprecedented success within its volleyball program, as Spring Valley advanced all the way to the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission's (WVSSAC) Class AAA State Championship Game in Ball's junior season.
While Spring Valley lost to Musselman in the 2017 state title match, the Timberwolves came back the following year and nearly ran the entire table en route to dominating their competition over the vast majority of the year.
Spring Valley won 39 games, defeated archrival Cabell Midland by a 3-0 margin (25-10, 25-17, 25-22) and finished inside the MaxPreps National Top 200 overall as a result of its fantastic play. Ball, along with fellow teammates Megan Camden (Marshall), Brooke Smith (West Virginia State) and Alex Darby (West Virginia State) all signed to play college volleyball off of the roster.
"From the start of my freshman year, I knew that we were going to have a special team," Ball said. "We all complimented each other very well and everything just flowed on the court. During our junior year, we faced some very skilled volleyball teams and finished as the Class AAA Runner-Up, just short of our goal. After that loss, we became more determined and worked even harder my senior year. We went undefeated all season and had one loss leading into the state championship game. Winning the state title was everything that I ever wanted when I started high school, and I still feel so proud of my team for accomplishing that goal. Not only did we walk away with a trophy, but we also made amazing memories both on and off of the court. It's a time I'll never forget."
Picking Shawnee State in part due to the school's offering of and strength in the dental hygiene program, Ball also discovered that she liked the friendly confines of the SSU campus as well as the environment and skill level of the volleyball program upon visiting the school.
"They invited me to play with the team," Ball said. "They were very nice to me when I met them. I was nervous when I visited Shawnee State for the first time, but I was really impressed with the campus and got to know a lot of people."
During her freshman season, Ball showed off her abilities on the defensive end, posting 287 digs while earning significant playing time as a defensive specialist for the program and coming up large on several different occasions, as her 18 and 15 digs in victories over Pikeville (Sept. 20, 2019) and Campbellsville (Oct. 15, 2019) suggest. Ball also had a 17-dig effort against Georgetown in a five-set loss on Sept. 10.
Overall, her 287 digs put Ball among the top 25 in the Mid-South Conference, while her 2.2 digs per set put the Huntington, W. Va. native 28th overall among all conference players in that category.
During the season, Ball's game was greatly aided by that of Martin, who finished her career with 1,454 career digs in just three seasons at Shawnee State and 1,588 overall including her first season at Indiana University-East. Martin finished the 2019 season second overall in the Mid-South Conference and 27th nationally with 667 digs to her credit.
"I really respect Stacia and I'm glad that I got the opportunity to play with her," Ball said. "She pushed me to be the best that I could be on the court, and taught me some things along the way. Playing my freshman year allowed me to get to know my teammates better, and get the feel of how we play as a whole on the court."
In the classroom, Ball currently holds a good standing on that end of the spectrum as well, holding a 3.27 GPA with over 45 hours of academic credit to her name. Her main focus is to continue to balance her schedule in an optimal manner so that she can be a critical piece to Scarberry's volleyball puzzle while working in the field of dentistry.
"I want to play the best defense that I can, and help my teammates along the way so we can win more matches this coming year," Ball said. "Academically, I'm currently focused on getting the best grades possible and getting accepted into the dental hygiene program."
As she shoots to better herself on a daily basis, it is clear that volleyball will always be a major piece to Ball's life -- regardless of where the game takes her.
"Volleyball has helped me accomplish so many things, from learning how to stay focused and work for something you want to learning how to have patience and how to be disciplined," Ball said. "I have made many friendships that will last a lifetime, and experiences that I'll never forget because of volleyball."
For more information on the dental hygiene and health science programs, visit https://www.shawnee.edu/areas-study/college-professional-studies/health-sciences/dental-hygiene-associate-degree and https://www.shawnee.edu/areas-study/college-professional-studies/health-sciences/health-science-bachelors-degree.
For more information on SSU Bears Athletics, visit www.ssubears.com or visit the Twitter and Facebook pages at https://twitter.com/SSUBears and https://www.facebook.com/SSUBears. For more information on how to join the SSU Bear Club or for sponsorship of specific SSU players or events, visit https://givetossu.com/bear-club and https://givetossu.com/sponsorthebears.