Trojan Alex Jupiter Was Born Ready
by Rachel Caton
USC junior outside hitter Alex Jupiter has had the sport of volleyball running through her veins since day one. Jupiter was born and raised in France, because her mother and uncle were playing professional volleyball overseas. Jupiter was raised by her single mother who would bring Alex to the gym everyday for practice and games.
"I basically grew up in a volleyball gym. As a child I used to take a ball and just practice bumping and hitting against the walls of the gym," Jupiter says.
A young Alex was interested in the sport, but her mother wouldn't let her settle on just playing volleyball.
"My mom tried to get me to play other sports, because she herself didn't always play just volleyball and she didn't want me to get stuck on just one sport," Jupiter says. "So I tried other sports, but in the end, the one that I really loved was volleyball."
The now six-foot-three Jupiter began playing on club teams with older kids and picked up the game quickly. She played on a junior national team in France, but quit the indoor game temporarily for the sand of beach volleyball.
For her freshman year of high school, Jupiter moved to sunny Southern California to find more training and opportunities on the beach volleyball front.
And Jupiter's play and innate talent for the game found her plenty of opportunities. Her indoor skills quickly translated to success on the beach. As a 16-year-old she qualified for the Manhattan Beach AVP Tour event as a duo with Leilani Kamahoahoa.
Jupiter explains, "Through playing beach I was able to learn different skills and I got stronger mentally, because growing up that was a weakness of mine. Beach volleyball helped me to become mentally tough and not to dwell on mistakes. It definitely gave me a better mindset, which I rely upon today."
Beach volleyball also helped Jupiter to gain a different perspective on the sport she had played since childhood.
"I was able to understand the game better through playing on the sand," Jupiter says. "Sometimes indoors the coach just tells you what to do and then you just do it, but I was able to learn exactly why we were doing things and also learned how to key into the strategies of opponents. It makes things much easier because I am now able to make adjustments in the moment and to point out the opponents' tendencies to my teammates."
The physicality of the beach game also played a role in developing Jupiter into the player that she is today in the indoor game.
"Beach gave me confidence in my physical abilities," Jupiter says. "Beach is quick, but going to indoor, you have to also be quick and stay strong. I learned a lot about body control and the importance of having a strong core."
Jupiter knew that to be able to earn a scholarship and go to college, she needed to get back in to her roots in the indoor game. She honed her skills for four years through a volleyball club named Sunshine, but did not play high school volleyball.
After graduating from Redondo Union High School in Redondo Beach, Calif., Jupiter earned a scholarship to play at nearby USC, a perennial NCAA title contender in the world of women's college volleyball.
Jupiter made an impact the first day she set foot on the USC campus in 2008. She became the first freshman to lead the Trojans in kills (350) since 2000. She was named to the Pac-10 Conference All-Freshman Team that season.
However, the transition to college was not completely seamless, as Jupiter learned a lot on and off the court her freshman year.
Off the court, Jupiter learned how to balance school and sport. The psychology major, with aspirations of becoming a psychologist and eventually opening up her own clinic after her volleyball career is over, cites the delicate balance of school and volleyball as one of her greatest challenges. However, it is one that she has met head on and has put in a great deal of work to become successful at it.
On the court, Jupiter experienced the pressure of being surrounded by great players who were ready to step up.
"Growing up, I never had to compete for my position, but here at USC, there was pressure because I knew that if I didn't perform well, there were great players sitting on the bench ready to come in," she says. "That was a challenge for me, and my teammates definitely pushed me to become a better player."
And that pushing paid off, because as a sophomore in 2009, Alex became the 31st All-American in USC's storied women's volleyball history after earning AVCA All-America third team honors. She was also first team All-Pac-10, with a total of 522 kills, ranking fourth-best in the Trojans' single-season record book.
Jupiter has not slowed a beat in 2010, as she currently leads USC in kills and service aces. Her play has earned her national notoriety, as she has earned the Sports Imports/AVCA National Player of the Week honor twice this season, becoming the first Trojan to ever accomplish that feat.
When asked about the personal accolades, Jupiter explains, "I really didn't expect them and I didn't even know I set a record until my teammates told me. My name gets the credit, but it is really all about the team. My teammates push me hard in practice and I know that if I have an off day, they will keep me going and playing hard."
"When everyone, from the middle blockers to the setters are doing there job at a high level, it allows me to have great stats. So it is really all because of them. I am always thinking about returning the favor, so my teammates can receive national honors, too."
It is this selfless, team-first attitude that has USC ranked in the top-10 and playing at a high level this season.
"We really have great team chemistry this year. There are many different personalities on this team, but they all balance out," Jupiter says. "The freshmen this season are very mature and that has helped us a lot. We are all just focused on one goal and it is not about the individual as long as we all continue to improve and win as a team."
There is no doubt that the Trojans have a tough test ahead of them this weekend, as they travel to the Bay Area to face California and Stanford, both top-5 squads.
But Jupiter and the Trojans are poised to take the challenge head on.
"We are really excited about these games. It is always exciting to play teams like Cal and Stanford. Other than rival UCLA, these are teams we always want to beat," she says. "It is very difficult to play up there on the road because they always have big crowds. However, it is really fun to face such a challenge. We have had a great week of practice and everyone is feeling great. It is going to come down to who wants in the most."