Story and image: Brad McLeod (Cranbrook Daily Townsman)
In her third year with the Avalanche, starting libero and education student Alexa Koshman is already — by all accounts — an impressive teacher both on and off the volleyball court. Now, she's just working on making it official, while in the meantime taking the PACWEST conference to school.
"Thinking back, I still get goosebumps."
It's been almost eight months since the College of the Rockies women's volleyball team won the PACWEST championship, but Alexa Koshman still can't get that moment out of her head.
"I really knew we could do it, I knew we had it in us, but I didn't know we were going to execute that well," Koshman says, her eyes lighting up at the mere thought of last year's victory. "If you look on paper, [we were] the sixth-ranked team going into provincials and to win, it's just absurd."
Absurd, maybe, but spend even a few minutes with Koshman and you'll believe anything is possible.
"We had this saying, all throughout last year during provincials, that passion has a funny way of trumping logic," she remembers will a smile. "That's [exactly] what we went through."
No team motto has ever seemed to reflect a player's life as perfectly as this one does for Koshman. Her success both on the court and in life, are driven by intense passion, which she has for two perfectly intertwining disciplines: volleyball and education.
Koshman, who grew up in Lethbridge, Alberta, started playing volleyball in middle school — when she was in seventh grade — and has known for even longer that she wanted to be a teacher.
"[I've known that I've wanted to teach] as long as I can remember. My mom had a day home and when the kids were over when I was little, we'd always play school and I'd always want to be the teacher.
"And then, as soon as I started getting older, I loved coaching — I loved teaching kids and I loved volunteering — and then it was like, well, why don't I do that as my career?"
After a very successful high school volleyball experience in which she won back-to-back provincial championships with Chinook High School, Koshman was unsure at what her next move would be. She was convinced that her future lay in teaching but also had tremendous potential on the volleyball court.
Fortunately, she quickly discovered College of the Rockies, which offered both the opportunity to earn a University of Victoria education degree, as well as the chance to play PACWEST volleyball for the Avalanche team.
"School definitely came first. If it came down to it, I wouldn't have played volleyball, I would have gone to a school where I could have gotten my teaching degree. So, this is like the best of both worlds, playing volleyball, getting to do something I love, as well as studying to become something that I'm going to love."
Koshman quickly became enamoured with both the college and volleyball program.
"Last year was my first year in the program and I was already teaching a class and I was two weeks into the program — it's just insane. All my teachers know me by name and the school system in Cranbrook is amazing, so I got placed with a good teacher, I got to teach and it was just awesome."
On the volleyball team, Koshman was also thrown front and centre into a leadership role right away, a position in which she thrives.
"In my first year, I was a captain and I really wanted to fill that role. I tried my best and it started to come naturally, especially with the education program, it wasn't hard to become that leader and that support."
As she started to build up tremendous experience in the classroom, she also became a prominent player for the Avalanche. After her first season in 2014-15, she was named the team's Rookie of the Year and Avalanche Player of the Year in addition to being placed on the PACWEST All-Rookie Team.
Along with being a leader in their championship season last year, Koshman added to her mantle by winning the team's 'Avalanche Award' and grabbing a spot on the PACWEST Provincial All-Star Team in 2015-16.
Now, she's ready to take her game to an even higher level by being her team's go-to player in any way she can.
"I definitely have taken on that leadership role this year. Being a team captain, I really feel that if your team chemistry is bonded and you guys are solid, then you're going to have increased amounts of success," she explains. "I think the best way to increase team chemistry is making relationships, actually talking to the rookies, seeing how they're doing today, asking about school. —Then, they trust you and you trust them.
"Just being friendly and being nice — it works wonders."
After playing left side hitter throughout high school, for the past two years Koshman has been having tremendous success as a libero — a defensive specialist position.
"I love defence. One of the best feelings is getting a dig that no one thought you'd get. Getting a kill is sweet, but there is just something about getting that amazing dig and everyone is just in awe because it's just you. I love that."
As someone who is not shy in the slightest, Koshman says that the libero role fits her perfectly.
"As a libero, I have a job to play defence and to pass, but also have the job of being the loudest person on the court at all times. Me being the loud, obnoxious person I am, I'm not afraid to be loud," she says with a laugh. "I just make myself look like an idiot on the court. I think that it helps our team.
"I've had girls come up to me and say they just love to play with me in the back row because I take control, so [my personality] definitely helps on the court being a libero because I can take charge."
Being able to take charge is also definitely a necessary skill for her future career as a teacher, and the confidence Koshman is developing now has her dreaming big.
"Ultimately, my goal is [that] I want to end up back in southern Alberta because it is home for me, [but] I also want to go to maybe Africa or Asia to do volunteer work," she says about her future. "I want to teach there and help build schools. I think it would be an incredible experience for me because I love helping people.
"I've always wanted to volunteer and help build homes and stuff, but it wasn't until I was in the teaching program that I thought I could actually affect these kids lives, I could give them an education. That's just something I aspire to, sometime in my life I will go overseas and help less fortunate people."
Leaving home at 18, moving to Cranbrook and thriving at the College of the Rockies, Koshman feels has helped her develop the strength and confidence to do anything she sets her mind to.
"I definitely learned independence [by coming to COTR] and stepping out of my shell even though I don't really have a shell. I could take off at any moment and I would feel confident. It would be hard to leave of course, but I think the reward would be definitely worth it."
Right now, however, her focus is on school and volleyball. While the team had a tough opening season road trip on Vancouver Island where they went 1-3 against Camosun and VIU, she still sees a very bright season on the horizon.
"I just look at our team and I think we are going to do great things," she says. "I don't really like comparing to last year, but the team that we have now, we were not there last year. We had a good season last year and we peaked at such a good time and if we continue going on this path, I think we can do incredible things."
Koshman is especially excited for the chance to play at home for the first time since they won the championship. This Friday, October 28, the team plays Douglas College in their home opener and will finally get a chance to celebrate last year with their classmates, now turned fans.
"The school has always been very supportive of volleyball [but] it'll be [especially] cool to see the home opener, because [last year] everyone would come up to us and say congratulations and we had like no idea who they were and they'd be 'oh Alexa, that's so awesome.'
"I can guarantee that we'll have a ridiculous amount of support just knowing how our home games were last year."
Her future may be in a classroom, but for now, Alexa Koshman is an authority figure on the volleyball court and come Friday at the COTR gymnasium, you better believe she'll have some lessons to teach.