Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

Reed back home with Blue Devils volleyball

2002 All-Gazette first-teamer returns to head up former program

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All it took was a little encouragement and Alexis Reed came home.

After a successful college volleyball career at Long Island (N.Y.) University concluded last May, Reed, who graduated with a degree in political science, contemplated what to do for a year while she contemplated graduate school. Springbrook High athletics director Ron Lane, seeking a new girls volleyball coach after Melissa Truman left the program, had an idea of how she could spend some of her time.

‘‘I was looking for someone who could relate to the kids,” Lane said. ‘‘I didn’t know exactly what she was doing, but we went out and looked for her, and when we found out that she graduated this year, we brought her in. I think she was a little unsure at first, we explained that this was a great opportunity to give back to her alma mater. She called back and took the job.”

For Reed, 22, the chance to coach her former high-school team is the capstone to a life spent playing volleyball. She took up the sport as a fifth-grader, when a family friend told her parents that she had talent, and that there was an opportunity to play the sport in college. She developed her game by playing with club teams, and with her younger sister Sherryta Stokes — who was The Gazette’s Co-Player of the Year in 2002, and is now playing at Manhattan (N.Y) College — helped vault the Blue Devils into a competitive power. In Reed’s senior year at Springbrook (2002), the team went to the 4A West Region title game, a feat that it had not accomplished in 10 years. Though that team ended its season a step away from the state playoffs, for Reed, who was the setter and was All-Gazette first team that year, the lasting memory of a strong regular season, and some playoff triumphs still endure.

‘‘The funny thing about that team was it wasn’t the strongest that we had in the four years that I played on the varsity,” Reed said. ‘‘It was just one of those years that we came together. We had gotten tired of losing in the first round. Our coach [Monique Comstock] did a good job of motivating us, and everything fell into place. We weren’t a power, but we beat a lot of the teams that season, like Whitman that had been beating us for years. It was fun.”

That year also put Reed on college coaches’ radar screens. After a year playing Division III volleyball at Rutgers-Newark, Reed transferred to the Blackbirds to experience the Division I level. In three years at Long Island, Reed made the switch from setter to libero, and in her sophomore year she recorded kills in five separate matches. By the time she had graduated, Reed had played against Division-I powers Long Beach (Calif.) State and Georgia Tech.

‘‘It was an eye-opening experience playing in college,” she said. ‘‘First off, I was shocked that we got volleyball shoes. I was used to buying them for myself. But, even though there are a lot of perks, you have to treat it like a job on top of going to school. They monitor what you eat, you have to travel a lot. But, it was fun. And, I had a club coach that told me that I wouldn’t be able to play Division I volleyball. I proved to myself that I could do it.”

That determination was exactly what drew Lane to think of Reed for the coaching position. In the four years that Reed played for the Blue Devils, they posted a record of 45-15. In the four seasons since she graduated, Springbrook’s volleyball program has declined. The Blue Devils went 2-12 last season and lost their first-round playoff match to rival Blake.

‘‘It was a hidden motive, but one of the reasons we went with her was that we were looking for someone that could bring back the positive aspects of Springbrook volleyball,” Lane said. ‘‘We wanted someone who could instill some Blue Devil pride. We haven’t had a winning record since she left.”

Whether or not Reed has the ingredients to field a winning team this season is still up in the air. Tryouts did not yield an impressive turnout, and many of the varsity players have little experience. Yet, senior Daishyana Richardson is an athletic middle blocker, and sophomore setter Aysha Hsu has club experience. Of more importance, they have a coach that expects a lot of them.

‘‘It’s amazing how much it’s changed in so short a time,” Reed said. ‘‘These girls don’t really understand where we were just a few years ago, but I tell them all the time, and they are enthusiastic. They understand why I am telling them what I tell them. If we work hard, we can take it to the next level.”

And, working with girls who are where she used to be is a unique experience for Reed. She’s hoping it’s the right one.

‘‘I like working with kids, and I wanted to coach,” Reed said. ‘‘There is so much going on for these kids, and sports can be a positive experience. Springbrook gave me that opportunity and now I can give back. I love it.”