Sept. 19, 2012
MADISON, Wis. -- Here’s something you should know about Alexis Mitchell. Beyond being a senior on the Wisconsin volleyball team, she’s a huge fan of the Boston Celtics even though she was raised in Iowa.
“Iowa doesn’t have a professional basketball team, so I got a free choice to pick whoever I wanted,’’ Mitchell said. “I love their team, and coach (Doc Rivers) and how they play.’’
Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo are her favorite players. Actually, you can understand her love for the sport since her dad, Barry Mitchell, a product of Norfolk State, is somewhat of a basketball lifer.
“He’s been living in Belgium for about 16 years and he’s still playing,’’ she said. “He’s 47 and trying to become the oldest player alive because he won’t give it up!’’
Here’s something else you should know about Mitchell: she still hasn’t forgotten her chance meeting with Misty May-Treanor, one of the Golden Girls, during spring break of her freshman year.
“We were in Huntington Beach and she just happened to be training there,’’ she said of May-Treanor, who has teamed up with Kerri Walsh Jennings to win three Olympic gold medals in beach volleyball.
“We were hanging out with her a little bit. She gave us some advice and so did her dad. You would have never thought you were talking to someone who had just won another Olympic gold medal.
“It was awesome. She was very chill - really easy-going and fun to talk to.’’
Mitchell can be that way, too - chill - unless, of course, she’s losing her cell phone (a habit that she’s broken), singing in the shower (she only wishes that she was better) or dancing before matches.
“It gets me loose - gets me going - and my teammates enjoy it,’’ Mitchell said.
Here’s another thing you should know about Mitchell: she’s planning on going out for the UW track team once her season is over. At the moment, she’s thinking about competing as a heptathlete alongside the Badgers’ Big Ten champions and All-Americans in the event, Dorcas Akinniyi and Jessica Flax.
At Davenport (Iowa) Central High School, she was quite accomplished on the track. She won a state title in the long jump and ran a leg on some relay teams that set school records.
“It’s very difficult to do two sports here,’’ she said. “There’s a huge commitment to volleyball in the spring and I wanted to fulfill it. But this my last year, why not? You never know what could happen.
“It could go great -- it could go poorly. It’s just something I want to do.’’
One last thing you should know about Mitchell: she’s hoping for an extended volleyball season.
“I definitely want our season to go into December this year,’’ he said. “It’s really important.’’
The banners hanging from the UW Field House tell a story; an incomplete one, at that.
There has not been a fresh entry since 2007.
That was the last time the Badgers volleyball team appeared in the NCAA tournament.
And that’s why Mitchell is hoping to play into December.
“It’s kind of funny when we do come in here for practice every day,’’ she said, “we never really look up at those because we always have going to the tournament on our mind.
“There are a lot of reminders all over the Field House that let us know what our final goal is, and what we want to make of the season. There’s inspiration coming from all different places.’’
Especially for Mitchell. Time is running out.
“It would be awesome because I haven’t been to the tournament at all since I’ve been here, so I’ve never experienced it,’’ Mitchell said. “So it would mean a lot for me to be able to go.
“It would also mean a lot to be the first team to get out of that drought and make it to the tournament. That would set us up for success so maybe we can put a few more banners up there.’’
Wisconsin coach Pete Waite understands her hunger.
“It’s always that way for seniors, for sure, because they know the end is near and they want to get it done,’’ said Waite, who’s entering his 14th season with the Badgers and 25th overall.
“The younger ones are also hungry and they want to be the ones who bring the team back to the tournament. It’s a matter of how fast they mature and how well things go as far as injuries.
“We have the talent. But we definitely have a challenge ahead of us.’’
That’s because the Big Ten Conference is so unforgiving; so loaded.
Two teams are ranked in the top 10 and seven are in the top 25 of the national coaches poll as the Badgers begin Big Ten play this weekend.
“You’d better have your act together because every team is so good,’’ Waite said.
Are the ingredients there for a successful run, however deep it may be?
“Those ingredients will speak for themselves when we get out on the court,’’ said Mitchell. “And it will be very obvious that everyone is essential to our team.
“We have a small team this year and we’re returning pretty much all of our starters. It will be a very familiar team to other Big Ten schools and to our fans.
“There are a lot of people who will have to step up and help us get to the tournament. We had six freshmen playing last year and now all those girls are sophomores and they’ve matured so much.
“They’ve really brought more energy to the practices.’’
Ellen Chapman and Courtney Thomas were named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team. Another sophomore, Crystal Graff, has returned from an injury that sidelined her for the second half of the season.
Mitchell also singled out another sophomore, Deme Morales.
“Deme is getting much better and improving every single day,’’ she said.
Many of the pieces to the puzzle are in place and more mature, Waite added.
“The minute we stepped on to the court this year, we were playing at a high level,’’ he said, “and we were able to start the team with higher level drills than we did a year ago.
“We’ll know a lot more at the end of pre-conference play. We have some good teams on that part of the schedule and we really have to take care of business; there’s not much leeway.
“I feel like we have the talent to be right there with everybody (in the Big Ten).
“But it’s a matter of consistency.’’
In concert with her leadership, Mitchell has been a model of consistency for the Badgers. She also been a role model for all of her teammates, Waite pointed out.
“Athletically,’’ he went on, “she keeps raising the bar as far as where she’s going with the height of her jump and the power of her swing; things like that -- just the energy and intensity that she brings.’’
Mitchell, who is a two-time honorable mention All-Big Ten pick, was not named to the 2012 preseason All-Big Ten team. She wasn’t upset, though, not on the surface.
“When it comes to those things, Big Ten honors, they’re great to have but I’m more concerned with team results,’’ said Mitchell.
“There are great players in this conference, and I don’t know how they decide those things. But that’s just more motivation for me to prove that I can be an All-Big Ten selection.’’
What would Mitchell say to her younger teammates to motivate them?
“I just want them to know that you’re going to go through tough times, not every season has been like I wanted it to be,’’ she said. “But there’s always an opportunity for you to get better.
“I’ve been here three years and not made it to the tournament. But I’ve never lost faith. And I know that I won’t leave the University of Wisconsin without making it to the NCAA tournament.’’
That’s really all you need to know about Mitchell.