By all accounts, Alex Fisher was supposed to be the next Jennifer Azzi, the newest Jamila Wideman. Introduced to basketball at age five, Fisher possessed all the necessary tools to become a great collegiate point guard by the third grade: excellent court vision, the ability to handle the ball with either hand, and a knack for scoring from either side of the court. George Fisher even joked with Tara VanDerveer at her summer camps that his daughter would be suiting up for Stanford in a few years. While Fisher is in a Cardinal uniform this Fall, she won't be running the fast break with Candice Wiggins or looking for Brooke Smith in the paint; rather the recent Menlo School graduate is patrolling the net with Liz Suiter and digging balls with Kristin Richards as the newest member of the women's volleyball team.
Growing up in nearby Atherton, Fisher played a variety of sports including basketball, soccer, and softball, picking up volleyball in the fourth grade at the urging of her best friend. With Stanford two-sport athlete Kristin Folkl as her idol, Fisher's main focus became basketball and volleyball. However, it became apparent that volleyball was her sport of choice: her club team included many of her friends, and the coaching she received was some of the best in the Bay Area. Fisher eventually decided she wanted to see how far she could go in volleyball and ended up dropping basketball prior to her enrollment at The Menlo School.
The decision to concentrate solely on volleyball initially shocked her parents, but Fisher was confident she had made the right choice. A self-proclaimed gym rat, Fisher worked hard to improve her game through the years, and her willingness to spend hours on the court paid off with a slew of honors she received throughout her high school career.
After leading the Menlo Knights to the California Division IV State Finals as a freshman and sophomore, Fisher was nationally recognized by two major prep publications. In 2001, Student Sports proclaimed the Bay Area phenom as one of the Top High School Freshmen in the nation; the following season, PrepVolleyball.com pegged her as one of the Top High School Sophomores in America. The accolades would carry on into her senior year, where she was touted a High School All-American by both Mizuno Volleyball and PrepVolleyball.com, after averaging eight kills, seven digs, and five blocks a game. Adding to her already long list of accomplishments was a selection to Volleyball Magazine's prestigious Fab 50 list and several local awards, including First Team All-League and All-County honors for the fourth straight year.
Within the volleyball community, Fisher's reputation is that of a versatile player who has all the necessary tools to be effective on both the offensive and defensive ends. Comfortable with playing on both the left and right side of the court, the 6'2" outside hitter can consistently put the ball away with either power or finesse. Possessing a great feel for the ball, Fisher passes and digs the ball with remarkable ease considering her height. Her love for blocking and a deceptively difficult jump floater only add to the dimensions of her all-around game.
Fisher's value to her coaches and teammates, however, extends beyond how hard she crushes the ball or how many times she roofs the opponent. Ryan Cooling, head volleyball coach at Menlo, believes it is Fisher's ability to lead those around her and inspire them to play to their potential that separates her from the rest of the pack.
"It's her leadership ability on the court that makes Alex the best. You could put Alex on any team and they will be better," notes Cooling. "Not just because of her skill set, but by who she is and how she plays. She is a huge confidence factor [for a team] when she steps out on the court."
Fisher honed her leadership skills after playing alongside her older sister Kate, now a sophomore setter at Georgetown, for many years. When she was younger, Alex was labeled as the quiet one, while Kate, only a grade older, was known to be more vocal and demanding with her teammates. It wasn't until the younger Fisher's junior year that she finally began to display some of her sister's gumption and outspokenness on the court. By the time her senior year arrived at Menlo, Alex took what she learned from Kate and fully embraced the leadership role she inherited.
Playing with her sister also had many other advantages for Alex Fisher. Kate was a student of the game and possessed a wealth of knowledge about the differing offensive and defensive schemes opposing teams would use. The two would talk for hours about the nuances of the sport, taking Alex's understanding of the sport to a higher level. She also benefited greatly from Kate's tough-love attitude in practice and games.
"She was really positive and nice to everyone else on the court, but for me, she'd be like, ‘C'mon!'" the Cardinal freshman recalls. "She's my sister, she can do stuff like that. If it was anyone else, I'd probably take it personally."
It is difficult to imagine that a player with as much talent and potential such as Fisher almost stepped away from the game a few years ago. During her freshman year at Menlo, she injured her shoulder during club season, and what was thought to be a simple diagnosis of a torn labrum turned out to be more complicated than anyone imagined. Deciding against surgery, Fisher rehabbed her shoulder by lifting weights and attending physical therapy sessions on a weekly basis. However, she discovered that nothing was helping her shoulder to recover, and her frustrations over the injury were beginning to mount.
"I felt like I had to work twice as hard to keep up," Fisher states. "People I would be playing with or against wouldn't be lifting, and I would, and they'd still be stronger. It was frustrating and I didn't really understand it."
Following such a fantastic year as a freshman, big things were expected out of Fisher by the time she returned to Menlo for her sophomore campaign, but her shoulder was still giving her problems. Her inability to play at the same level as the previous season took a toll on the Knights' young star, and it was evident that she was not happy. One early season practice, Fisher was not trying hard and mouthing off during drills. Cooling took her aside midway through to try and pinpoint the source of her defiance.
"I asked her what was going on and she burst into tears. She told me she hated volleyball, she hated her shoulder injury, she never wanted to play the game again," remembers Cooling. "On the inside, I'm going, ‘Oh no. I just ruined this girl's career!'"
Luckily for Cooling, Fisher calmed down, and the two were able to reach a solution that would infuse the fun back into volleyball. Known primarily for her powerful hitting, Fisher was prohibited from pounding the ball to ensure that her shoulder would not be damaged any further. She then worked on other facets of her game that would help improve her team's chances at winning a state title.
The end result was better than either could have imagined: Fisher evolved into an all-around threat who could score points in a variety of ways up at the net with her blocking or a well-placed tip, and she also became a stable force in the back row, with increased ball control and digging abilities.
"If I can't hit hard, then I have to do something else to help the team. So I worked hard on my passing and blocking," Fisher explains. "Before I hurt my shoulder, I basically had only two shots which were hard angle and hard line. After [the injury], I learned how to tip and find spots. I had to open my eyes a little."
This past January, Fisher finally went under the knife to correct her shoulder. Doctors were surprised to learn that her labrum was not torn and they proceeded to just tighten up her labrum and rotator cuffs. With no major complications resulting from the surgery, Fisher expects to back to normal for the 2005 season, her first as a Stanford Cardinal.
Even with a chronic shoulder injury that almost derailed her career, Fisher attracted attention from college coaches across the nation. Watching Kate go through the recruiting process helped Alex when the time came for her to pick a school, though in her heart, there was really only one place she wanted to attend. Despite drawing scholarship offers from universities like USC, Pepperdine, Santa Clara, and Cal, she pledged her allegiance to Stanford when she discovered she had been accepted in June 2004.
"She really wanted to stay home, stay local, and play in front of her parents and friends," offers Cooling. "Every kid who grows up here wants to go to Stanford, and if you have the chance to go, you go. When they offered her, it was a no-brainer."
Aside from its draw of academic and athletic excellence, Stanford interested Fisher because of John Dunning, the former head coach at the University of Pacific. Taking over as head coach from Don Shaw in the summer of 2001, Dunning owns an 120-20 record in his four years on The Farm and has guided the Cardinal to two national championships (2001, 2004).
"I met John back when he was at UOP, at the UOP Setter's Camp because my older sister was a setter… I wanted to play for him when I was there – I thought he was the best coach I've had in my life," Fisher declares.
When Alex Fisher gave her verbal commitment to Dunning last June, she joined Stanford's star-studded Class of 2009, which includes Cynthia Barboza, an alternate to the 2004 United States Olympic Team, and Erin Waller, PrepVolleyball.com's 2004 National Player of the Year. While many players would be concerned about receiving court time with such a deep and talented incoming class, Fisher views her future teammates as motivators rather than competition.
"She is really excited to play with such great talent, like Cynthia Barboza and the rest of the group," George Fisher offers. "Rather than see it as competition that might make for less playing time, she sees it as a wonderful opportunity and challenge to make her a better player."
After years of playing against her future teammates in club tournaments, Fisher is excited to be on the same side of the net for the next four years. While she does not know what the future will hold, Fisher predicts that her class will entertain fans for years to come.
"We are all very serious when it comes to volleyball and we all genuinely love the game," she says. "We are a bunch of girls with a lot of energy who are interested in having a good time. I think we'll bring a little bit of spunk."
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