Nia Alexander is a result of those Sundays in the gym.
First worship, then the workout. After church she’d head to the basketball court with her coach and father Corey Alexander, slip on her headphones and work on turning her weakness into her strength.
Water breaks aren’t really her thing. She’d rather keep working.
That’s how she’s transformed from a post to a slashing shooting guard with a reliable 3-point shot who this year leads the Todd Beamer High School girls basketball team in scoring and earned The News Tribune’s 2015-16 All-Area girls basketball player of the year.
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“That’s time in the gym,” Corey Alexander said. “That’s why the shock value isn’t there for me. She put that time in to get her shot where it’s at.
“We can’t talk about it — if you want to be a shooter you got to get in the gym and shoot. So we were here every weekend and it was coming from two parents who played the game, so she can’t get away with much.”
And it’s allowed her to finally shine.
Corey Alexander long believed Nia would grow to 6-foot-2 like his wife Dianne (née Williams), who once played at the University of Washington. But Nia is now 5-9.
“She got my family’s height,” said Corey Alexander, a former basketball player at Nathan Hale who is 5-11.
Beamer’s season ended in the Class 4A state semifinals at the Tacoma Dome last year when Gonzaga Prep’s Laura Stockton hit a game-winning 3-pointer with eight seconds remaining. That was Beamer’s first trip to the Dome after the previous two seasons ended in the state regionals.
Corey said he would have rather his team lost by 10 than that way.
Then Todd Beamer’s top scorer from last season transferred to Bellevue. Beamer needed a scorer and a 3-point threat to fill the shoes.
So came those long days in the gym — taking Nia out from the post and working on the wing. She’s become a sharpshooter, making 45 3-pointerss this season — hitting 64 percent from beyond the arc.
“Once Nia started hitting 3-pointers it was like every game and I was like ‘OK, I don’t need to worry about not having a shooter anymore,’ ” said Bria Rice, Beamer’s point guard and last year’s All-Area player of the year. “We were like ‘Where did this come from?’ ”
What’s also helped is her reputation. Nia said defenders have sagged off of her this season, playing her to drive middle.
“Sometimes I’ll be like, ‘What? I’m open? Oh, OK. You must not know,’ ” said Nia, laughing.
She’s averaged 15.6 points, six assists, five steals and five rebounds per game this season. She’s helped Beamer reach the state tournament each of her four years and those are the only four years the school has ever reached state.
Beamer (22-2) plays Skyview (20-4) in the 4A state quarterfinals at 2 p.m. Thursday in the Tacoma Dome.
But it’s not just her improved shooting stroke that pushed her from third wheel to the team’s go-to player.
She speaks with a conviction that underlies her passion. One of her more memorable team speeches came before the start of her junior year.
“She starts talking about the team going to state and she starts crying,” Rice said. “You could just tell how much she wanted it and how tough it was losing those (regional) games. And she starts talking about how we’re all family and how bad it hurts to lose when you’re so close and you’ve been working so hard.”
It was one of senior post Makenna Woodfolk’s first encounters with the team after transferring from Curtis.
“I was like, ‘Wow,’ ” said Woodfolk, who has signed to play at Hawaii. “I had never been to state or nothing but I’m like, ‘I want to come in here and help get you there.’ Just to see her crying like that was inspiring.”
Alexander honed her competitiveness not only playing her parents’ sports, but also Taekwondo, club soccer and only gave up volleyball this past season. She’ll head to the University of San Francisco on a basketball scholarship in the fall.
“Sometimes, at least for me, in this whole high school experience, some other teammates got the shine at times,” Alexander said. “And I was always like, ‘How come I don’t get this?’ I felt like I was working hard. But I stayed the course and I feel like that only made me hungrier. When you’re humble and you work hard, that’s when God uplifts you.”
Now Beamer’s hoping that hard work leads to a state championship.
“Coming so close last year — we are determined,” Woodfolk said. “Like, you don’t understand — we are not leaving that place without a championship.”
But even if …
“You better take out the ‘if’ … blow that up in smoke — throw it out. Step on it,” Rice quickly countered.
“Nuke it,” Woodfolk said, laughing.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677