By dominating the court with the same resolve that she drew upon from her share of life’s setbacks, Lady Vaqueros outside hitter and co-captain, Jessica Alvarez, 20, turned out to be the top volleyball player for 2010, as she was in 2009.
Her father Armando Alvarez passed away when Jessica was just 6. To cushion the blow, her uncle Luis Arroyo took over as a second father.
Her mother, Violet Alvarez, serves as Jessica’s role model. “[It’s amazing] to see somebody that strong and independent keep on going when things are just so bad,” said Jessica, “especially with two daughters, a mortgage and all – just to pull through and still get everything done.”
Alvarez wanted to be an actress at one point in her life. She said she admires Kate Winslet and Meryl Streep, but always wanted to do scary movies ever since she could scream. Yet since she fell in love with volleyball at her very first practice, she has enthusiastically pursued the sport instead.
Largely responsible for every game her Lady Vaqs put in the win column, Alvarez was picked again this season by the WSC (Western State Conference) coaches for all-league first team. ?The all-league practice is designed to allow recruiters to see how players adjust to playing with different hitters, passers, blockers and diggers from other colleges.? It took place Saturday.??
“Saturday [gave her] a chance to impress [four-year college coaches] and see if they’ll offer anything,” said Coach Yvette Ibarra. “But people are [already] actively recruiting her.”
So far, the nearly 6-foot-tall Alvarez said she has offers from Ashland University, Ohio; Rice University, Texas; Alabama State; Temple University in Pennsylvania; South Vermont; and the University of La Verne in California.? Temple requires?her GPA?to be?at least 3.0 to qualify for a scholarship.
One valuable lesson Alvarez has learned is to not procrastinate in her studies. “Being an athlete can cause academic laziness,” she said.
She really likes to read books instead of doing her homework, Alvarez said. “I read crime novels, romance novels, thrillers, mysteries, non-fiction – kind of whatever catches my eye.”
Besides making it to the Olympics as a volleyball player for team USA, Alvarez dreams of getting her doctorate in criminal psychology and becoming an interrogator for the FBI. She is inspired by TV shows like “CSI,” “Dexter” and “Criminal Minds.”
When her father figure, Arroyo, died recently, Alvarez said it made her realize that she couldn’t rely on anyone else to take on her responsibilities. She would need to finish her schoolwork and get those e-mails out for colleges on her own. Her mother is frequently busy, and her older sister Michelle has moved to San Francisco with a boyfriend.
“It’s up to me to take my future into my own hands,” said Alvarez. “I really wanted to show my uncle that I could do something with my life. If he could only see me now, he would be really proud.”
Through the years, Violet has had Alvarez’s back. “Without her, I probably wouldn’t be in the best situation that I am in right now,” said Alvarez about her mother.
On the volleyball court, her mother has always been the first one to tell Jessica what she did wrong: “I’m going to be brutally honest with you no matter if it hurts,” Violet always said. “But if she wasn’t like that, I wouldn’t be as strong and focused on my goals,” said Jessica Alvarez.
Violet, who liked dodge ball in school, insisted that young Jessica exercise and take up a sport. Once Jessica chose volleyball, Violet forced her to keep at it. “Watching volleyball for so many years my mom does know the game,” said Jessica.
“He [my uncle] would always be there for me, too,” said Jessica about Arroyo. “We would play a lot of basketball.”
Her freshmen year in high school, Jessica was voted most improved basketball player.
Some of Jessica’s other accomplishments while at Bellarmine-Jefferson included: being a Village Christian All-Tourney Volleyball Player, winning the U.S Marine Corps Distinguished Athlete Award, winning the Leti Cabrera Scholarship, and academic honors her junior and senior years.
Alvarez began to think about playing more seriously even though her elementary school, Incarnation Catholic School, cut her from the team in the sixth grade and in the seventh grade. Even so, she never got discouraged. She made it onto the team as a “benchwarmer” in the eighth grade.
“My sister, Michelle, was active about playing volleyball,” said Alvarez, “but was never really into volleyball as much as I was. I think she would have been really good, even though I’m 2 inches taller.”
Alvarez made it onto the varsity team during her freshmen year in high school, a feat that is all but unheard of. That was the year that she started playing a lot. During her sophomore year, she got into club volleyball where she learned all her skills – “yeah, every single technique,” she said.
Alvarez said, “I made it my goal just to focus on volleyball and school.” She has never had much time for boys. Instead, she loves lifting weights to improve her hitting strength. Lifting for the legs and the quads helps improve her stance, power and jumping height.
San Gabriel Elite Volleyball Club in Covina is pretty expensive, but she went around to businesses and got sponsored, said Alvarez. “Help me with my future, my dream,” she asked them. Anderson Lithograph, the company where her father used to work, happily sponsored her for $1,000.
She has maintained an admirable record on the court since then, especially at GCC:
“Jess has shown great growth in the last two years. The fact that she was one of the best passers on the team says a lot.”
Alvarez also improved on defense tremendously when she first came, said Ybarra. And her stats from 2009 to 2010 show a marked improvement across the board.
Tough love is Ybarra’s philosophy, said the coach, “Sometimes the tougher part more than the love – but in the end, they always know that I just want the best for them, I really do.”
“We’re a family,” said Coach Ybarra. “And families don’t always get along, but our goals and our thoughts are about the same thing. I love these girls as if they were my own.” It will be hard for Ybarra to see her go, but even harder for the Lady Vaqs to replace her.
Six-foot Britney Riddle said, “I’ll try to live up to her caliber. [As for] the attitude – it takes time to get up there to where Jess is, but I think anyone can do it if they really want it.” Alvarez was always supportive of her freshmen rival. When Riddle would block her, Alvarez always said, “Do it again, do it again.”
GCC is kind of this small community, said Alvarez. “Especially if you’re in the athletic community, you get to meet a lot of people that’ll stick with you for the rest of your life. One of my teammates, Roxy, is my best friend and we’re going to be best friends forever.”
“We’re not just teammates; we’re really close friends,” said setter Roxanne Domines. She and Alvarez have established a telepathic bond. “There are times when just by eye-contact we know how to set up and kill the ball,” said Domines. “A day before every game, we focus on what’s going to happen and get our strategy up.”
Brittany Frederick, who has always looked up to Alvarez and followed her around like a shadow said, “I wanted to hit like her, exactly like her. She’s 5 foot, 11 and I’m 5 feet 4 inches. I tried to play like her and tried to be her height. She’s the finisher.”
“She’s the one that the defense is trying to stop,” said Sarah Kert. “I really respect Jess because she plays all the way around.” Kert only plays front row and often has to sit out exhausted. Alvarez does double that, and the pressure is principally on her.
Kert said Alvarez always does a complete workout rain or shine. Even when she was sick she would finish all 12 reps. Alvarez would say, “No, I’m going to go, I’m going to finish.” That was always her mentality – until the end she went strong – she never went soft, said Kert.
This year would have been a lot different if everybody had just stepped up to the plate, said Alvarez referring to this season’s 6 and 17 record. “It’s all about the team and I wish this year we would have focused more on that.”
“I’m not anybody without my team and without them there would be no me,” she said emphatically. “A leader has to be a great communicator and a good listener. Plus you need the ability to work 150 percent more than what you’re capable of so you’re motivating your teammates.”
“Coach Ybarra is the only coach that has ever pushed me this much and gotten me to the breaking point and then brought me back up,” said Alvarez.
“I thank her a lot because in high school it was all about me,” said Alvarez. “I was always in my head. But Yvette showed me how to be humble and what it is to be a versatile player, a good hitter. It’s not always about slamming that ball down every single time. It’s about placing the shots.”
Jess is going to do great things wherever she ends up, said middle blocker Cindyline Sevilla.
About her height, Alvarez said “5 feet, 11 inches may be short for college volleyball, but if I want it I can get it. I can achieve anything that I put my mind to and fight for.”