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Rocky Top: Stutzman commits to Tennessee

by Matthew Ondesko: Managing Editor

You think school is stressful at times, think about trying to find a college to continue your academic and athletic career.

As National Signing Day has commenced, high school athletes around the country are starting to choose where they would like to go to school for the next four years. It’s a stressful time for the student-athletes, and families, that are involved in the process.

A lot goes into where someone wants to continue their education, and playing career. What might look good now, might not look good a year from now - or even four years from now.

Making a decision on your future is not as easy as it sounds.

Student-athletes are now the ones doing the recruiting. They are sending everything out to college coaches in the hopes of being seen, and invited down for a visit to the school.

Williamsville East High School volleyball player Alexa Stutzman has gone through the process, and it was a little bit more stressful than she had hoped.

“It was definitely very difficult especially, because before this club season, college coaches didn’t really know who I was - because I wasn’t a part of a very competitive club team previously,” stated Stutzman. “Throughout my sophomore year it took a lot of time from January to June when I was allowed to talk to college coaches, emailing as much as I could to make sure they knew who I was, and to make sure they could come and watch me play live. I was kind of behind everyone else because before 16s I really didn’t have experience playing in front of college coaches, but it didn’t really affect me. Leading up to June 15, I was extremely nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. The recruiting process was very frustrating for me. It’s a game of patience and I am not a very patient person. Talking to so many coaches was very stressful and all the information you are given from everyone is very overwhelming. The most difficult part for me was the patience part It was all about reaching out to every school you would want to go to and wait for responses.”

Stutzman. who is a class of 2025, wanted to get the process done and out of the way. That’s why the junior made her commitment early. Some players wait until their senior season to finally make a commitment, but Stutzman wanted to be able to focus on her final couple of seasons with Williamsville East.

Getting this done now allows Stutzman to be able to focus on just playing her game, and having fun in the process.

“It was very important for me to commit early to get it out of the way and just focus on getting better and having fun,” stated Stutzman. “Especially with last year being so stressful because of the recruiting process and being at a new club. Really since June all I have worried about is where I am going to end up, so it is a big relief to know that I am going somewhere I am extremely excited about.”

The hard work Stutzman has put in finally paid off when she committed to the University of Tennessee. As soon as she visited the campus, and saw everything that Tennessee had to offer, it was just a no brainer.

The program is always ranked in the top 25, and they play in one of the best conferences in the country, in the Southeastern Conference (SEC).

“After my visit to Tennessee it was a no brainer. Especially when it came to how much everyone cared about the volleyball program. The goals and culture of the volleyball team was exactly what I wanted in a program,” stated Stutzman. “Everyone made me feel so comfortable, and I felt a connection with the team and coaches immediately. Playing for a top 15 volleyball program that just continues to get better is what is came down to. When I went on other visits I found myself comparing everything to Tennessee. I couldn’t be more excited to play in the SEC. The SEC is one of the best conferences for volleyball. That’s something I am super excited about. Playing Power 5 was very important to me. I just wanted to play at the highest level.”

Stutzman got to this level by playing very competitive volleyball, not just in high school, but with her travel team in Cleveland. It takes a lot of guts to pack up four days a week and drive to a new city couple hours away just to play travel ball.

She is out there trying to prove herself to a coach, and teammates, she has never met before. It can be daunting at times, but also rewarding. The move paid off for Stutzman as she has grown as a player both on and off the court.

“It takes a lot of commitment, but I couldn’t be happier that it’s the decision my family and I made. I drive to Cleveland four days a week, so it definitely takes a lot but it’s worth it. Going in last year I was very nervous playing at such a high level club with people I have never met before, but I settled in and my team became some of my best friends. It was very different because in tournaments and practice you are representing the club,” explained Stutzman. “During club this past year I realized how competitive and intense I am when I play volleyball. I discovered how committed I am to volleyball too.”

On the court, you could say that Stutzman is the glue that keeps the team together. She plays two very important positions on the team ion the Libero and DS. While both positions are completely different, they are the same as well.

Both positions need to work with the other. So, if Stutzman is the DS for the match, she needs to make sure she is working closely with the Libero - to make sure they are on the same page.

“The only difference for me is that the Libero stays in for all six rotations. When I am both a Libero and DS I try to be as aggressive as I can and not let anything touch the ground. I feel the mindset is the same for both to try to take up as much court on serve receive as possible and not let a ball drop. When I am DS I remind myself to play with the same intensity and aggressiveness as I do when I am Libero,” stated Stutzman. “I go into the game with the same mindset as I do as Libero. I try to be super aggressive and intense when I play. If I am DS it is important for me and the Libero to work together to take up as much court together on the first contact.”

With a full year left before she even gets to college, Stutzman knows she still has a lot to work on before she can take the next step. Committing is one thing, playing is another.

Stutzman just doesn’t want to take up a roster spot at Tennessee, she wants to get in there and help her team win. So, continuing to grow with her club team, and school team, will be her top priority.

“During club and high school I am going to focus on staying consistent and confident,” stated Stutzman. “And be a good leader to my teammates.”

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