Alexis Hart’s personality is as big as her volleyball swing.
“I can talk for days,” she says. “I love to dance.”
And while her fun-loving nature off the court is infectious, her commanding presence on it is why Hart is one of the top freshmen hitters in the Big Ten.
Hart, an All-America high school player from Truman High School in Independence, Mo., ranks second on the team with 74 kills for the No. 3 Gophers (5-1), who open their home schedule Friday against North Dakota at the Sports Pavilion.
“It’s been fun to get to know her,” senior outside hitter Sarah Wilhite said. “She has a lot of energy and loves to talk. But she’s a great player and she’s a great teammate, too.”
Back-to-back Big Ten freshman of the week honors through six matches already puts Hart in select company. She’s the first Minnesota freshman outside hitter to pick up that award since Daly Santana did it twice in 2012.
Santana was a first-team All-America player and the Big Ten’s kills leader as a senior last year. Hart is well on her way to becoming an offensive force for the Gophers, leading them with 17 kills in Saturday’s win against then-No. 11 North Carolina.
Since losing to Stanford in the second match of the year, Minnesota has won four in a row. Hart has three straight double-figure kill performances in that stretch.
“So far she’s shown some great consistency, and hopefully that will continue,” Gophers volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “All [four] of our incoming athletes had the ability to contribute right away, but she’s obviously rising to the occasion.”
McCutcheon’s nationally recognized recruiting class included outside hitter Brittany McLean from Rosemount and 6-5 middle blocker Regan Pittman from Springfield, Kan. They both played with Hart in the Under Armour All-America game last year.
But Hart surprised her coaches by how quickly she has adjusted to the college level, much like teammate Samantha Seliger-Swenson, who took home All-Big Ten honors last season as a freshman setter.
Getting stuffed in a preseason practice by All-America middle blocker Hannah Tapp was Hart’s first welcome-to-college moment. Since then, Division I volleyball hasn’t been as intimidating.
“I woke up and said, ‘Wow, this is big-girl volleyball,’ ” Hart said. “Hugh’s a great coach, so it kind of just naturally comes now since I’ve been learning things from him.”
Hart’s strong athletic genes came from her mother, who played college basketball at Oklahoma. In high school, the 6-foot Hart was a three-sport athlete. She once considered track her No. 1 sport, after winning the Missouri state long jump title as a sophomore.
Hart was drawn to the “culture and chemistry” at Minnesota and signed with the Gophers. The early results point to that decision being a big win-win.
“She does a great job of taking on the challenge, standing tall and not letting it affect her at all,” said Wilhite, who leads the Gophers with 87 kills. “I feel like my freshman year, I felt more pressure that wasn’t really there. I just put it on myself. I don’t see that a lot with Lexi, which makes me really excited for her.”