When you first see junior Alexis Mitchell step onto the floor for the Wisconsin volleyball team, you’ll notice she is shorter than most middle blockers in the Big Ten.
But despite standing at 6-foot, Mitchell quickly discards any perceived disadvantages about her size after her first kill.
She makes it clear early that she can get up. Mitchell has athleticism that allows her to soar far above the front of the net, exerting her will upon opposing teams.
That explosiveness was something head coach Pete Waite saw quickly when recruiting Mitchell. Mitchell excelled in both volleyball and track at Davenport Central High School, winning the Iowa State Championship in the long jump in 2008 as a junior and finishing second as a senior. She also qualified for states in sprints.
“When we recruited her, we saw an athlete,” Waite said. “That explosiveness is really important, as well as her foot speed side-to-side on the block. She’s continually working on her discipline with her hands at the net, and she’s blocking a lot of balls at the net. She’s touching as high as any of the taller athletes.”
The track background is something to which Mitchell her success thus far in her career. Mitchell’s .355 hitting percentage ranks fifth in the conference; she has 148 kills in 304 attempts.
“Having a track background was really good for me coming into volleyball because track athletes are conditioned to be very quick and explosive,” Mitchell said. “A lot of the things I did in track translate to volleyball with the jumping and the footwork. I’m really grateful I have that background because it helps make up for me being undersized. I can get up quicker; a lot of my game is about beating the other blockers with my speed because usually they’re huge. I really have to get up there and get up fast.”
That quickness makes a Mitchell-spiked ball hit the floor faster and harder than almost any that can be seen in the Big Ten. But the success Mitchell has had throughout her career has never come easy.
Mitchell was told as a freshman that the team planned to redshirt her, using that time to transform her into an outside hitter. Eventually, the staff decided to move her back to the middle, and after a preseason meeting with the coaching staff, it was decided Mitchell would not redshirt.
It ultimately proved to be the right call, as Mitchell went on to be named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team in 2009, leading the Badgers in blocks per set. However, the path to success for Mitchell has had its rough patches.
“The speed was one of the hardest adjustments for me coming into college,” Mitchell said. “I didn’t play in the power league like everyone on our team has; I always played at a smaller club level. I wasn’t used to how fast the sets were going to be because in high school it was a lot slower of a tempo. I also had to adjust to the fact that everybody has more than one hitter that can put the ball away, so as a blocker you really have to pay attention to everyone; you have to scout every player and know their tendencies, and that was a huge adjustment.”
It was an adjustment that Waite saw his blocker struggle with throughout her freshman year.
“She’s a very competitive player, and she was very hard on herself early in her progression,” Waite said. ”But now she’s turned it into a much more positive feel on the court, and it’s made a big difference in her confidence and results.”
With her young struggles far behind her, Mitchell has become an integral part of the Badgers’ attack and defense. Second on the team in kills per set and first in total blocks with 67, Mitchell brings a high intensity to a match that electrifies the floor. With slightly less than half of her collegiate career left, Mitchell has high hopes for her future.
“Personally, I want to make it on First Team All-Big Ten and become an All-American either this year or next year,” Mitchell said. “I want to be part of a team that makes it back to the tournament, and our goal is to make it back to the Sweet Sixteen. I want to be remembered as a great team player and a leader on and off the court.”
“Those goals are definitely reachable for her,” Waite said. “Part of getting those honors comes from who’s around you and what the team is doing. I feel we have that potential and strength on the court with Alexis, and as she improves her game and everyone else does, she has a shot at those goals.”