Ames volleyball on track for first winning season since 2013. Alexa Kopaska is a big reason why.
Alexa Kopaska was even more vocal and energetic on the volleyball court than usual Tuesday. It's homecoming week at Ames High and and her team hadn't played in 12 days, so the Little Cyclone senior was extra pumped up to play Mason City.
But ... things didn't start off so well.
After the long layoff, Ames came out flat and dropped the first set, 25-15.
Then the Little Cyclones settled in, and there was no stopping them. Ames came back to dominate the next two sets, winning 25-16 and 25-14. The Little Cyclones stumbled in the fourth set, losing 25-21, but they weren't going to be denied in the rally game.
Ames raced out to an 8-1 lead and coasted to a 15-7 win to improve to 6-5 this season.
"That first set we were getting back in that groove of playing with each other," Kopaska said. "In a game it’s different than at practice so that first set was us getting back into it.
"This was a super awesome win for us to pull out."
Kopaska was a big reason Ames emerged victorious. She had 13 kills, eight digs, four aces and three blocks.
Her all-around play and enthusiasm have played huge roles in Ames having a winning record midway through the season. Last year, the Little Cyclones were just 4-16 and they were only 10-27 two years ago.
"Alexa has definitely stepped up, especially with hitting," Ames head coach Meg Williams said. "She leads the team in kills and she’s always aggressive. You can just tell in a match, her aggressiveness feeds into the team."
Kopaska leads Ames in kills through 31 sets with 68. She has a 19.7% kill-efficiency rate. But the 6-foot-1 middle hitter does a lot more than spike the ball.
Last season she started getting in more rotations. Kopaska has become an excellent performer in the back row, ranking second on the team in digs with 46.
"I like having her and Lola (Campbell) in the back row," Williams said. "If we get in those tight situations where we can’t get anything out of the front row, they’re there for a back-row attack. Alexa being aggressive and really motivating on the court really helped her transition into a six-rotation player."
Campbell is an outside hitter that goes all the way around. With 60 kills, 45 digs, 11 blocks and eight aces, she and Kopaska working together on the court can be a nightmare for opposing teams to deal with.
"We can really trust each other," Campbell said. "If I’m in the front row, Lex is in the back and you know she’s got that pass right behind you to set you up for that kill and the other way around. I trust Alexa to get every ball that comes her way."
Kopaska is also a top-notch server. Her 96% accuracy is tops among the team's regular servers. Of course, being a natural middle blocker, her defensive talent at the net is also outstanding. Kopaska has 17 blocks so far in 2021.
Even with her versatility and talent, Kopaska's passion for the game might be her most valuable asset.
"Alex is a huge leader," junior Ling Bai said. "She’s so loud and honestly the best teammate you could ever have. It’s great having her as a role model, leader and friend."
With Kopaska going six rotations, Bai has filled in at the middle blocker spot this season. She had the match of her life against Mason City, picking up eight blocks and six kills.
"Ling gets in there and makes her presence felt in the front row," Kopaska said. "The improvement she’s made — you can tell she’s getting in the gym and working year-round. She saw a role and she filled it."
Bai credits advice from sophomore Sophia Timmermans for helping her have such a big night Tuesday. But Kopaska has also played a big role in Bai's coming of age at middle blocker.
"Anything for my teammates," Kopaska said. "Lola and Ling, we’ve played together since eighth grade. Liv (Olivia Smalley) and I since sixth grade. It’s fun to rise up together as a group and really complement each other and have success."
Smalley is the team's top setter. She loves getting the ball to Kopaska for kills.
"Playing together through all these years, our connection on and off the court has grown so much," Smalley said. "You can just see that on the court and it just shows that us playing together for so long has just improved us as players."
With Smalley coming back from an illness the previous week and Maron Gaunt and Autumn Wild just returning to action, Ames finally has a full roster to work with. Kopaska is excited to see what the team can accomplish in the back half of the season.
"We were really shallow passing-wise, so it was tough in practice to have those drills where we could pass and set," Kopaska said. "Having those setters back, having those passers back, it really helps out our offense. We have all the gears back in the machine."