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Mead’s Olgard took local volleyball to new level

The truth is out. In the early stages of her volleyball development, Alexis Olgard hated the sport. She didn’t like practices and made excuses not to go.

“In fourth grade I hated it,” she said. “I don’t know why. I was one of the youngest girls on the team, I think. Maybe that was it. I think it was kind of boring for me.”

The movement of dancing that she and her older sister Emma had done beginning as toddlers was more intriguing, she said. She credits the art with making her the athlete she has become.

Today, the statuesque 6-foot-5 Mead middle blocker rules the game as perhaps the most dominant to come out of Spokane. She was a force last summer on the USA Volleyball Junior National team and Wednesday signed her letter of intent to play at the University of Southern California, where she’s already projected to start.

Her coach at Mead, Judy Kight, knows volleyball talent. The Panthers have been a fixture at state and have won multiple state titles. They open play at 10:30 a.m. today in the State 4A tournament in Kennewick’s Toyota Center, chasing their seventh title.

“I do think Alexis is the best player I’ve ever had,” Kight said. “She might be the best out of the state ever.”

The youngest daughter of Bruce and Sandra Olgard developed a volleyball passion by seventh grade and has never looked back. She has never been self-conscious about her size, but instead wears it as a badge of honor.

“I knew I was going to be tall and I like being tall,” she said. “It’s different from everybody else.”

Both parents are tall. Bruce, an administrator in the Mead School District, was a late-blooming 6-5 athlete who never started in football at East Valley, but developed into a two-time all-conference lineman at Whitworth College. Sandra was a professional dancer who owns her own dance studio.

“We both knew Emma and Alexis would be quite tall,” Bruce said. “One of the things we thought important was that they did go to dance. I always noticed dancers carried themselves much better. We told them to stand nice and tall and don’t try to hide that.”

When the two began playing a variety of sports, they eventually teamed together on club teams and were members of two Panthers state champions. Emma is playing at the University of Montana, where she is a redshirt freshman.

“(Alexis) went from crawling to running,” Bruce said. “She seems to have had athletic gifts even at a young age.”

She also has a fierce determination.

“Somebody once said that Alexis has a look when she really decides she wants to get after it,” Bruce said. “You don’t want to get in the way once you see that look.”

By high school she was starting in basketball and volleyball as a freshman. Volleyball became her siren, luring her to its undivided attention. The summer following her sophomore season she was invited to try out for the USA National Junior team in Chula Vista, Calif. She didn’t make the cut but was asked to stay with another player four more days and train.

“It was really hard, just because we weren’t on the team,” she said.

It was humbling, because she had never been cut before, Bruce said. The slight instilled in her a determination to become the best, including 5:15 a.m. workouts and weight training.

This summer she again received an invitation and again was named an alternate, invited to play in Europe on the second team.

“I was pretty disappointed, just because I wanted to prove myself and make it,” Alexis said. “I was going to Europe and was excited, I guess. Then I got a call and was on the U.S. team again. I wasn’t sure about it. I felt kind of like I was just a side person. Thinking about it one night I decided, ‘I’m just going to prove myself. I will be a starter.’ ”

An injury to a player had opened up a roster spot. Instead of Europe, Alexis found herself in Tijuana, Mexico, and in the lineup for the FIVB U20 World Championships. Although the United States finished 12th, she led the team in scoring, was fourth in the tournament in blocks and had games in which she put down double-digit kills.

USA team officials told her they saw a huge improvement and couldn’t understand why she hadn’t been on the team before. They said it was unbelievable that a middle blocker would be the team’s leading scorer.

Kight has seen that experience manifest itself in this, her senior season at Mead. While she always has been a good learner and talented athlete, the experience in the world tournament made her even more intimidating in the GSL. Kight said she read opposition hitters and shut them down, then transitioned easily into the offense. For the coach, it has been a blessing coaching someone she’s able to push and try different things.

“My impression is when she went to play with the junior national team and went to USC, she found her people, you know what I mean?” Kight said. “The other girls were just as athletic and determined. That’s where she blossomed. ‘I totally understand these people and they understand me.’ She came back after this last summer, just the happiest, most content really, most positive leader I’ve seen her be. She’s just having a blast.”

Olgard said she once was content to stay in the background, defer to her sister and let her game speak for itself. This year she believes she’s stronger, can read the court better and hits with more power.

“I’ve become more mature and way more independent than I was,” Alexis said. “Going to USA and being away from the family helped.”

She said the highlight of her high school career was playing with Emma and winning two state titles. The low point was last year when the Panthers finished seventh in state. This weekend a veteran, if still young Mead (28-2), ranked No. 1 in the state, plans on contending, joined in the tournament field by defending champion Lewis and Clark (15-8).

Then it’s off to her next challenge, college at USC perhaps as early as next semester. She said that on her visit it was a warm place to be. She even was greeted by football coach Pete Carroll.

“Other campuses didn’t have the same environment. I wanted to stay their all day long,” Alexis said. “So I’m ready.”

Just as soon as her Mead career comes to an end this week.