Prep newsmaker: Cloquet's Alex Oakes in control on volleyball court
When Alex Oakes joined Cloquet's varsity volleyball team as a seventh-grader, she played the game at a frenetic pace. Full of energy, Oakes didn't spend a lot of time dwelling on placement or strategy. She was out there to hit the ball.
When Alex Oakes joined Cloquet’s varsity volleyball team as a seventh-grader, she played the game at a frenetic pace. Full of energy, Oakes didn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on placement or strategy. She was out there to hit the ball.
“She loved the game and loved to play, but it was sometimes chaotic when you’re running around and throwing the ball up in the air and you don’t have a lot of control or know where it’s going,” Lumberjacks coach Heidi Anderson said during practice Wednesday.
The senior setter concurred.
“I went to open gyms in the summer and I had no idea what I was doing,” she said, before alluding to one of the biggest differences between then and now. “My dad still had to drive me to all the practices.”
Oakes is driving now - both a Toyota RAV4 and Cloquet’s balanced attack. The 18-year-old has added polish to the promise she displayed as a gangly youngster. With so many capable hitters on a team that has state-tournament aspirations, Oakes is responsible for spreading the ball around and finding the hot hand.
She’s thriving in a role Anderson likened to quarterbacking an offense.
“After you’ve played as much volleyball as Alex has, she’s done a good job of taking care of herself, (but now she’s thinking about), ‘How can I make the people around me be successful? How can I put them in a position to get the kill? How can I build up their confidence?’ ” Anderson said.
That’s a far cry from pre-teen Oakes’ approach of hitting before thinking.
“Now, it’s just a lot of finesse and control and a lot of very deliberate thought going into kind of leading a team,” Anderson said.
Oakes, who will play collegiately at Minnesota Crookston, picked up her 2,000th career assist a week ago in the Lumberjacks’ victory over Greenway.
Much like its longest-tenured player, Cloquet has evolved over the years. The Lumberjacks are a perennial threat in Section 7AA, reaching the section final for the first time in 2013 - a 3-1 loss to Mora.
At 9-3 halfway through the current season, they look more than capable of producing an encore. This time, though, the goal is different.
“I would be very ecstatic to get down to the state tournament,” Oakes said. “Last year we were saying we want to get to the section final, and we did. Now we want to get past that point. We do think it’s a realistic goal.”
Cloquet never has appeared in a volleyball state tournament.
The Lumberjacks have the tools to change that this fall. Aside from Oakes and fellow senior setter Sami Westendorf, Cloquet has power at the net in the form of juniors Kassidy Steen, Anna Hansmeyer and Taylor Leyrer.
Oakes weaves it all together.
“She’s just had so many reps and she knows exactly what to do with it,” Steen said.
Steen said Oakes has a knack for keeping the mood light - to a degree.
“She makes you laugh all the time, but she also knows when to be serious,” the middle hitter said.
Aside from her passing prowess, Oakes has developed other parts of her game, including hitting and serving. This past summer, she played for former Hibbing and Minnesota Duluth standout Kate Lange’s Minnesota North club team. Oakes also played against Lange as a rookie with the Lumberjacks.
That seems like forever ago these days. There is less than a month left in the final regular season of Oakes’ prep career, which started when she was 12 years old. Then, the playoffs beckon, with one last try to get Cloquet to state.
“There’s not going to be a next year that you can say, ‘Oh, we’ll do this next year,’ ” Oakes said. “It is my last year, so I really want to put everything out on the court every day.”
Prep newsmaker: Alex Oakes Prep status: Cloquet senior
Sports: Volleyball and track and field
School activities: Executive Board
Family: Dad, Greg; mom, Lisa
Pet: Max, a black Labrador
Plans: Play volleyball at Minnesota Crookston
Face-to-face with Alex Oakes One thing people don’t know about me: I like to hike, but I don’t like being in nature
My ideal vacation: Florida
Pet peeve: When people are hypocritical
Last website I visited: Minnesota Crookston’s
If I had a million dollars, I’d buy: A new car
The toughest athlete I’ve competed against: Former Duluth East player Mandy Kurosky
Favorite musical artist: Carrie Underwood
Car I drive: 2001 Toyota RAV4
Favorite home-cooked meal: Skyline, kind of a cross between spaghetti and chili
What is on your pre-game playlist: Team’s warmup CD, which includes some Eminem as well as Lil Mama’s “Lip Gloss”