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Volleyball: Nichols signs to play with Air Force Academy’s prep school

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By Mike Cote

Alex Nichols had never really considered a future in the military until she was approached by a recruiter.

That recruiter just happened to be a volleyball coach.

Nichols, a standout volleyball player at Los Alamos High School, signed her National Letter of Intent to play at the United State Air Force Preparatory in a ceremony Tuesday at Los Alamos High School’s Speech Theater.

Nichols was a big part of the Hilltoppers’ recent successes, including the team’s 18-3 regular season mark in 2009.

One of the top outside hitters in northern New Mexico for the last two seasons, Nichols was twice named a District 2AAAA first-teamer and was picked as the district’s Most Valuable Player in 2008 as Los Alamos regained the district title it had lost to Española Valley the previous season.

Her rise to prep prominence reached its peak this season when she was selected to compete in the North-South All-Star Volleyball Game, a contest reserved for the top graduating seniors in the state.

Nichols said her prep career took quite a turn before her junior year.

“As a sophomore on (junior varsity), I was a setter, which was totally different,” she said. “As a junior, I really took off as an outside hitter.”

During her prep career, Nichols made several visits with teammates to a volleyball camp at Air Force. While she said she enjoyed the camp, it never crossed her mind to look seriously at the Air Force as a possible college destination.

Then, after this season’s camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., an assistant coach approached Nichols and asked if she’d ever thought about a future at Air Force and a chance to play Division-I volleyball.

The Air Force prep school’s primary function is to prepare potential AFA cadets for entry to the academy.

Nichols said there was a lot of necessary pre-testing to get into the prep school, both physically and academically, including what she said was a time-consuming entrance essay.

The prep school is also located in Colorado Springs.

While admission to the AFA is generally the goal of most prep school students, it doesn’t guarantee admission. Nichols said she will still have to be nominated for academy admission.

AFA’s Falcons compete in the Mountain West Conference along with the University of New Mexico.

“My ultimate goal is to graduate from the Air Force Academy,” she said. “That will set me up with a lifetime of opportunities.”

This past fall, AFA’s prep school played only a handful of interscholastic contests between mid-August and late October, including a late August date at Roswell’s New Mexico Military Institute.

Nichols, said she’s actually seen more of the academy than she has of the prep school on her trips to Colorado Springs, will report to the prep school in mid July.

“I’ll be preparing myself for the first day,” Nichols said of her agenda between now and then. “It will be a totally new experience for me, preparing mentally and physically.”

Nichols was half of Los Alamos’ main offensive threat this season, along with middle hitter Taylor Ealey – the 2009 Most Valuable Player in 2AAAA. Nichols led Los Alamos to consecutive district titles and Class AAAA quarterfinal appearances.

Los Alamos put together an impressive 15-match win streak until it was knocked out of the Class AAAA tournament by St. Pius X.

Nichols said her time at LAHS will be remembered fondly.

“I’m going to miss high school,” she said. “I’m going to miss high school volleyball. I’ll miss everything at high school, but at the same time, I’m ready to move on with my life. This is a step in the right direction.”