(Photo by BYU Photo/Jaren Wilkey)
This story was originally published in the BYU-Boise State football game program on September 12, 2015.
Motivated by her family, Alexa Gray is entering her senior year on the BYU women’s volleyball team, one she is hoping is even more magical than the 2014 season.
The senior from Calgary, AB, Canada began to build hype for herself when she competed in the North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation Championships in Guatemala while she was in 10th grade. She won the “Best Attacker” award and started getting noticed by recruiters from American schools, such as Penn State and Wisconsin.
One of those schools recruiting her was BYU. Then-assistant coach Shawn Olmstead was particularly interested in her playing abilities after talking to a connection he had in Canada. She would end up being his first commit as the head coach of the BYU women’s volleyball team.
“I went up to Canada to see her play after talking to my connection,” Olmstead said. “Immediately when I saw her live, I knew she was a really important recruit for us.”
When Gray was in 11th grade, she was invited by then-head coach Shawn Olmstead to attend the BYU volleyball camp. From Monday through Thursday, she played with many girls who would eventually become her teammates.
“I felt like BYU would be a really good place for me to come while I was at camp,” Gray said. “Not only because of the school, but because of the girls I would be playing with. That was my first real experience with BYU.”
While Gray was bonding with her teammates, the coaches were taking notice of her skills. She impressed Olmstead so much so that after camp was finished, he met with her to try to convince her to commit to BYU, not knowing that her mind was already made up.
“After watching her at camp, I knew how important she would be,” Olmstead said. “I had to present BYU in the best way I could. I showed her around campus and offered her the chance to come to BYU. For most recruits, you have to work to convince them. She was pretty set on coming without me, so when she said she wanted to come, I didn’t believe her at first. I was ecstatic because she was my first college commit and one of the best players to come through BYU.”
There was a lot going on in Gray’s private life at the time, which the coaches were unaware of, that influenced her decision to come to BYU. Gray is incredibly close to her sister, Jordan. They were close already, but when their mother unexpectedly passed away after a tragic car accident, they became inseparable. Jordan attends BYU as well and is on the women’s rugby team. Having her sister at the same school was a huge bonus when Gray was deciding where to go.
“We have a really tight bond. When our mom died, all we had was each other,” Gray said. “We stuck together after that. It’s nice to have family to go to for support after a long weekend. I go to her games and she goes to mine. I love seeing her in the stands.”
Between her sister and extended family that also lives in Utah, Gray was convinced that Provo was the place for her. Over the years, Olmstead learned more about Gray’s family situation and the real motivation she had to attend BYU, including getting to know her father.
“When her mother passed away, all she and her sister had were each other,” Olmstead said. “Her sister being here at BYU gave her the chance to continue together, which was big time. Her dad lives in Salt Lake, and I think it’s been a blessing for her to build that relationship that wasn’t really there before. Her dad comes to almost every home game.”
While she grew closer to her family, she worked hard on volleyball and has become one of the best outside hitters in the nation. Aside from her strong hitting abilities, something that Olmstead noticed right away was Gray’s physicality.
“She is a very physical player,” Olmstead said. “She’s really tall, she’s strong, she jumps high and she hits the ball hard. The truth is, she can get a kill whenever she wants to. The more she grows into that confidence, the better she is.”
Teammate Amy Boswell arrived on campus the same time as Gray did. Boswell, a redshirt junior from Aloha, Ore., noticed that she was shy at first, but her skills made her stand out.
“I was really intimidated by Alexa,” Boswell said. “She didn’t say much her freshman year, but she was really good. She was silent, but deadly. She has opened up a lot since then.”
In her freshman year, Gray finished the season with 365 kills, which was the second-most on the team that year. She also had 67 blocks and 71 digs. Gray collected 477 kills in her sophomore campaign, along with 83 blocks. After her junior year, she joined the 1,000 kills club, finishing the season in 11th place all-time at BYU.
Olmstead also noticed her growth since her first day as a shy freshman. He believes that her leadership has been her biggest area of growth over her four years at BYU.
“Because of her play, Alexa immediately was good enough to stand above the rest her freshman year,” Olmstead said. “Little by little, her play and her example stood her out from others. She took that, developed that, and became more of a vocal leader over time.”
The most successful season of Gray’s career so far was the 2014 season. She was named the 2014 West Coast Conference Player of the Year, AVCA Second-Team All-America and was named to the All-WCC First Team, All-Pacific South Region Team, NCAA Seattle Region All-Tournament Team and to the NCAA Oklahoma City All-Tournament Team. The team made it all the way to the national championship match, becoming the first unseeded team to ever do so. Despite losing in three sets to Penn State, she called this experience the “highlight of my life” rather than just the highlight of her volleyball career.
Gray’s tenacity in volleyball has brought a lot of success. She has a drive to win that puts her above the rest. According to Boswell, she’s as competitive as they come.
“She is a fierce competitor,” Boswell said. “She knows how to kill the ball and she always thinks that she will win the drill. I’m just glad she’s on my team.”
Once her last rally at BYU is over, she has aspirations to play overseas and in the Olympics one day. Through all of her success in the volleyball world, she thinks of her mother, naming her as the biggest example in her life.
“I look up to my mom the most,” Gray said. “With her being a single mom, I always looked up to how she treated other people. She was always really nice even when they weren’t. She never showed when she was down.”
Gray has made a lasting impression in Provo before her time wearing a Cougar uniform is even over. Though shy at first, her personality shines through.
“She knows I think the world of her,” Olmstead said. “Whenever she greets you, she has a great smile and a wonderful personality that’s engaging and inviting. People want to be around her and be a part of that. Those are qualities she will always have and make her who she is.”
When asked if she has any regrets during her time at BYU, she said the following: “I don’t have any regrets. I’ve had an awesome experience here. There isn’t anything I want to change.”