Purdue University Athletics Department / Courtesy photo
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
New outside hitter Alexa Smith was ranked the No. 7 player nationally during her senior year at Lewis-Palmer High School by PrepVolleyball.com. Some of the honors she collected during a wildly successful prep career:
2014-15 national Player of the Year by the National High School Coaches Association
2014 Colorado Gatorade Player of the Year
2014 national Player of the Year by MaxPreps
2014 first team AVCA/Under Armour All-American
2013, 2014 Class 4A state champion
Alexa Smith was not unlike any number of pending high school graduates eager to spread their wings and explore the vast world beyond their hometowns.
Not long after Smith began that journey, though, she experienced another of life’s allures — the one that says sometimes there’s just no place like home.
When Smith was the most coveted volleyball recruit in Colorado, and one of the tops in the nation, she opted to forge her future at Purdue. Now Smith is back in her home state and ready to help lead the new-look Colorado Buffaloes back into the NCAA Tournament.
“I was mainly looking to go out of state at first, but later on I realized I wanted to be closer to home,” Smith said. “I looked at a couple of the schools in Colorado but realized CU would be the best fit. I wanted to play in a conference like the Pac-12.
“Just going from Colorado, especially to the Midwest, you realize what you miss so much. It just wasn’t the best fit for me and I thought it would be better if I just came back home.”
Hailing from Lewis-Palmer, the same Monument high school that produced recently graduated CU basketball star Josh Scott, Smith made her verbal commitment to Purdue early in her junior year and never developed a relationship with the staff of former coach Liz Kritza.
However, Smith does have a longstanding relationship with CU junior Gabby Simpson, as the duo spent six seasons together as teammates on the club circuit. The idea of playing together once again was a big reason why Smith was enrolled in classes in Boulder last winter.
“We’ve known that family for a really long time,” Smith said. “I grew up playing with them and against them. It definitely has been an easy transition for me, especially since we have new coaches. My first day with the team was also the coach’s first day, so that made the transition so much easier.”
That coach, former University of Denver leader and CSU assistant Jesse Mahoney, has in Smith a player who will slide easily into the role vacated by graduated outside hitter Alexis Austin. And her arrival also gives Mahoney the flexibility to use Simpson to fill a void at setter.
Smith appeared in all 33 games last year as a freshman for Purdue, averaging 2.05 digs per set while recording 80 kills. As a senior at Lewis-Palmer, she was named the national player of the year by the National High School Coaches Association and also earned the Colorado Gatorade Player of the Year honor.
“That was a pleasant surprise, finding out she wanted to transfer home,” Mahoney said. “She’s probably our most complete player. She just does everything really well and will be a big part of what we do on the floor (this year).”
Pat Rooney: twitter.com/prooney07