When the Manhattan Beach Mira Costa girls’ volleyball team found itself trailing an opponent for one of the few times this season, the Mustangs knew just where to turn.
The next set was for 6-foot-5 outside hitter Alix Klineman, who leaped up from behind the 10-foot line, cranked her right arm and did her best imitation of AVP tour pro Kerri Walsh.
It was an uncanny approximation as Klineman catapulted forward, her thick, blond braid flying behind her as she slammed the ball just inside the right sideline and off two opposing players in the back-court.
“When you see somebody like Alix, where she’s built like Kerri Walsh and she kind of looks like Kerri, who happens to be one of the best volleyball players on the beach or indoors to ever play the game -- and Alix has two inches on her -- I think it’s exciting,” said Holly McPeak, a 1987 Mira Costa graduate and AVP tour veteran.
Klineman’s monster spike from the back row helped send the Mustangs on their way to another victory. She closed out by scoring eight of Mira Costa’s last nine points, finishing with 20 kills, eight digs, two blocks and three aces in what has become a typical performance for her.
“Playing with Alix kind of helps me sleep at night,” said Mira Costa senior middle blocker Lauren Bledsoe. “She’s definitely a major part of the team, the most major part of the team.”
Klineman, subject of an intense recruiting battle, could finally rest easily after committing last week to Stanford, where she figures to to draw even more comparisons to Walsh for her appearance, athleticism and skills.
Walsh, a former Stanford standout, was the AVP’s most valuable player in 2003 and 2004. She and partner Misty May-Treanor have been named the tour’s team of the year each of the last three seasons and the duo won the women’s beach volleyball gold medal at the 2004 Olympics.
“She really doesn’t want to let anything drop, or give away any points,” Lisa Arce-Zimmerman, a former AVP player who is now an assistant coach at Mira Costa, said of Klineman. “Kerri Walsh is very determined that way, and that’s how Alix is. With that reach, such long arms and long legs -- Alix is taller than Kerri is, so it’s a little different there, but she just reminds me a lot of her.”
Mira Costa Coach Dae Lea Aldrich compares Klineman not only to Walsh for her look and physical gifts but also to May-Treanor for her drive.
“It’s her heart, it’s her soul, just the passion for the game,” Aldrich said. “That’s what you really call an elite athlete, someone who just has that passion and drive to do everything, and sacrifice everything, so they can become good in the sport.”
The beneficiary of Klineman’s talent and experience has been Mira Costa, ranked No. 1 in the country by PrepVolleyball.com all season. The Mustangs (36-1) will appear in their ninth state title game when they play San Jose Mitty (38-1) for the Division II championship at 7 tonight at San Jose State.
Klineman has already led Mira Costa to two state titles, beating Mitty -- Walsh’s alma mater -- in last year’s Division II final. The Mustangs have also won Southern Section titles from 2003 to ’05 before falling to Redondo in this year’s Division I-AA final. Klineman was a division co-MVP in 2004 and 2005.
Though she won’t turn 17 until Dec. 30, Klineman is widely seen as a can’t-miss college prospect, a projected leader of the next generation of U.S. Olympic indoor and beach volleyball players, and a future pro, either in Europe or on the beach or, perhaps, both.
“She’s been in the pipeline for a number of years now, and, relative to her level, she’s always been one of the top players,” said Tom Pingel, director of the High Performance player-development program for USA Volleyball. “She’s been absolutely one of the best players in the country, and maybe the world, for her age group.”
A youth basketball player before she decided the game was too physical, Klineman showed her determination to excel at volleyball by asking Aldrich early in her high school career what she had to do to stay on the court as much as possible. Told she had to be better than anyone else -- including all the defensive specialists -- in the back row, Klineman worked tirelessly to improve her passing and digging.
“I think I work hard in everything I do,” she said. “I just don’t really have the patience to be off the court.”
But when she isn’t playing volleyball -- an infrequent occurrence because, as she said, “It takes up probably 75% of my free time” -- Klineman enjoys photography.
“If she sees a nice sunset, she’s been known to go grab a camera and run down to the beach,” her father, Mike Klineman, said.
She is admittedly shy and wasn’t entirely comfortable in the spotlight leading to her commitment to Stanford. For several days before she signed a letter of intent, Klineman fielded multiple phone calls from media members seeking updates on her decision.
“I’m glad it’s over with,” said Klineman, who prefers to look to the future. “I don’t think I’m the best with attention. It’s definitely flattering, but I don’t try to focus on that.
“I just think I’m competitive and kind of a perfectionist, and that keeps me working. Some players stop developing, and hopefully, that won’t be me.”
Next, she’ll follow in Walsh’s footsteps at Stanford.
“Any time you get compared to somebody, it’s a compliment. She should take it that way, and then make her own mold,” McPeak said.
“Years from now, people will be watching somebody else, and say, ‘Hey, she looks like Alix Klineman.’ ”