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Thankful Thursday: Alex Jones

Feb 11, 2021

Alex Jones has been a part of the Bay Area boys volleyball scene for well over two decades. First, as a player at Homestead High School and an old local club called CCVC.

Coach Alex would be the first person to tell you that he is not the most physically gifted of athletes. Now mind you, he does stand 6 feet 4 inches so he does have some God given attributes on his side, but his vertical jump is paltry, his arm strength is above average, and his speed is on par with a JV cross country runner 😉. The physical side of coach Alex's game has never been his strength, it has always been and always will be the mental side of his game that makes him great.

Raised on the Workup Courts

As a high schooler, Alex spent almost every single day working on his game (he knew that his physical talents would not be enough, so he had to put in more time and effort than everyone else). Now, club volleyball practice was 2 times a week so he had to find a way to play and train the other 5 days. How did he do it? He found a tight knit community of beach volleyball players who would play "workup games" at West Valley College. Problem was, this group of guys was twice his age.

If you have never been a part of a beach volleyball workup court, it can be an extremely intimidating environment for an adult, let alone a 15 year old kid. What you have to do is:

  1. Arrive to the courts between the allotted time slot for the "Work Up". Usual start time was 4:00 pm for the early birds and the majority of people showing up around 5:00 pm once work gets out. Alex would be there at 3:45.
  2. Head to the first open court and claim your spot by saying "I got next".
  3. Find your partner. Traditionally your partner became the next person that walked onto the sand that was looking to play. Luck of the draw.
  4. Once there was a group of 4 players that were ready to compete you would play a match to 21 points. If you won your match you would move up to the next highest court. If you lost, you would move down a court (or if you were on the bottom court you would be kicked off until the next match was finished).

Workup courts are a meritocracy. You win, you stay. You lose, you're off.

I can only imagine what coach Alex's first days on the beach courts at West Valley looked like. He would show up to the court, tell a group of 30+ year old men "I got next" and then find a partner (usually another man twice his age) to play with. Just think of the guts you have to have as a 15 year old to pull that off. Truly impressive, but that is just the way Alex is wired.

He was there for a reason, he wanted to get better. In order to get better, he needed to play and these guys were playing every single day. No brainer.

Beach Transformation

Those countless hours on the sand had a huge impact on Alex. He went from the dangly 6'4 kid with questionable coordination, to a force to be reckoned with his high volleyball IQ and soft touch on the ball. He earned a spot on a division 1 team at Cal State Northridge. At the same time, Alex tried out for the new USA Volleyball Beach High Performance program and earned a spot on the U17, and then U19, and finally U21 teams throughout his playing career.

While playing at CSUN, coach Jones and his beach partner would wake up early and make the long drive down highway 5 from the San Fernando Valley to Hermosa Beach multiple times a week. They would train with USA Beach and then head back before their first classes started and then have indoor practice in the evening. Talk about dedication.

Setbacks Are Temporary

During his collegiate career at CSUN, Alex ended up being cut from the team not once, but twice, in favor of another group of setters. For many, this would be the end of their collegiate journey. Not for Alex. He continued to make the long drive to Hermosa and train with USA Beach and then transferred to University of Hawaii for his senior season. UH did not have any depth at the setter position, and Alex being the consummate team player convinced coach Wade that he could be the perfect role player to bolster their depth.

For most of the season, Alex served as the backup setter helping to push UH's young starter. Hawaii was a top-5 team that year and they were vying for a berth into the NCAA tournament. On one particular weekend UH was facing off against an MPSF conference foe that Alex was all too familiar with: CSUN.

On night two of the series, CSUN jumped on the Rainbow Warriors early opening up a 16-8 lead. It was at that moment that coach Charlie Wade called coach Alex's number and subbed him into the match. Hawaii immediately went on a tear, eventually tying the opening set at 23 all before CSUN closed it out 25-23. Coach Wade decided to let Alex take the reins.

Hawaii went on to win the next three sets 25-20, 25-17, 25-22. Alex put on a career best performance, totaling 42 assists and 11 digs. Here is a clip from Alex's post game interview:

Alex easily could have bashed his former coach, team, and teammates but the furthest he goes is saying that his former coach, "might not have believed the most in me" (reminder- this coach cut him twice). Alex quickly redirects the question to say that the most important thing is that the match was "fun for me and the teammates I have now".

Masterful interview response.

Repurposing Knowledge

Alex and the Rainbow Warriors did make the NCAA tournament that year but fell in the first round to Penn State. At the conclusion of his playing career, Alex quickly turned his focus towards continuing to play beach and coaching. Alex did a brief stint with Rockstar Volleyball Club in Southern California before returning back to Northern California and taking on a role with West Valley College and Bay to Bay.

Within two seasons of coaching with Bay to Bay, Alex was already making his mark on his 2's teams. He wanted to find even more ways to contribute, and that is when we approached him about doing something with beach volleyball. Alex set a meeting with Arielle and I at Hannah's Coffee Shop in downtown San Jose and he laid out his plans for a boy's beach volleyball club.

At first, the goal was to simply provide an introduction to the sport of beach volleyball with intention of trying to inspire some players to get out onto the sand and utilize the unique training benefits (just as Alex had as a kid). During the first tryout in the Summer of 2016, we had about 30 kids show up. They went through 10 practices between May and June, and Alex absolutely crushed it. The kids loved the training and everything worked around the indoor schedule. It was a match made in heaven.

The first Bay to Bay Beach Club season (Summer 2016)

Our initial intention was to only run the beach program during "beach season" (aka Summer) but the demand seemed to warrant expanding the programming to year round. So we all decided to give it a go and run a Fall program.

Side story:  when we were planning the first Fall season Alex asked Arielle and I the question, "What should our rain policy be?" to which Arielle replied, "We are in a drought. It hasn't rained here in two years".

That Fall season it rained during 7 of the 10 practices 🤦‍♂️.

Beach Training Pays Dividends

Over the course of the past 4 years the beach program has been running, many of the players that have been consistent members of the program are the ones that have made the biggest strides. When our 17-1's team won the clubs first National Championship in 2018, 6 of the 12 players were members of Beach Club.

Now the program serves over 200 athletes across all three seasons of beach club. It is one of our greatest tools for development, but also one of our greatest tools for introducing young men to the sport.

Alex's passion for the game is infectious. It is never more evident that what Alex is preaching is working, then when we see our players out on their own at beach courts getting reps or walking up to a man twice their age and saying, "I got next".

Thank you for all that you do for Bay to Bay coach Alex. You have impacted so many young lives, and you have helped instill a winning culture amongst the entire coaching staff. We can't wait to get back on the sand with you once those courts reopen!

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