Tyson Alexander is currently one of the best volleyball players in the country, on one of the most dominant teams in the CIS—but it didn’t start out that way.
The 6’8, 245 pound middle from Shanty Bay, Ont. was originally a competitive hockey player, like a lot of Canadian kids getting into the game at an early age, first lacing up skates at the age of three.
His hockey career would extend fourteen impressive years, with Alexander seeing success early on, playing at the Junior C level. Though typically comprising a roster of 16-20 year-olds, Alexander managed to crack the line-up as a fifteen-year-old.
When he was seventeen, he got an offer to play for the Stouffville Spirit Junior A team. He tried out for the OHL hockey team the Barrie Colts with the intention of trying out for them again when he turned eighteen, but somewhere along the line, his plans were changed.
Volleyball was always more of a side-sport for the multi-talented athlete, coming onto Alexander’s radar when he was in high school.
“I played for fun through school, my first year was in Grade seven,” said Alexander, “and then in high school, I started to get better at it —I got MVP all four years.”
Despite Alexander’s obvious success in the game, he was an under-developed volleyball player. He did not have the experience of a competitive league under his belt like most of the MVP high-school volleyball players did.
So when Coach Dave Preston was invited to the OFSAA championships in Alexander’s grade 12 year to watch another athlete play, he was blown away by Alexander’s level of play despite his lack of volleyball experience.
“I talked to the coach right after the match, and the coach knew who I was there to see and I said ‘Thank you very much for the opportunity to take a look at this other young man, but I would really like to know who that guy is,” said Coach Dave Preston.
“And the coach said ‘He’s not a volleyball player, he’s a hockey player.’ I said ‘Well I beg to differ.”
Alexander’s physical presence alone was enough to gain Preston’s interest in wanting to have him involved with the Marauders team, as his 6’8 stature is key for the physical demands of the sport.
“He was 6’8, 230 pounds and he jumped out of the gym. That got my initial attention,” said Preston.
Alexander’s technical skills were not great, but the way he carried himself on the court is what impressed Preston the most.
“The way he interacted with his teammates—he wasn’t always doing the right things, but he was always complimenting someone else who made a nice play, supporting someone who didn’t, it was neat to see,” added Preston.
Preston was able to talk to Alexander’s coach after the game, and gave him his business card so that Alexander could contact him about his options.
Alexander originally was not going to contact Preston due to his initial intention on continuing on with hockey, but after talking with his father, he decided to at least check out the option.
“I got a call from Tyson saying ‘my coach gave me your business card and I have no idea what we’re supposed to do next.’ I said ‘No problem, bring you and your parents to campus and we will sit you down and talk about it,” said Preston.
In their meeting, Preston told Alexander to give him two years to work with him and develop him into a phenomenal player, and he’ll be able to dominate in league-play.
“I told him the worst thing you’re going to end up with is two years of great education,” said Preston.
When Alexander first came to McMaster, he had a lot of work to do in order to catch up to the skill-level of the guys around him with the majority of them coming from very competitive leagues.
He did not start or play for his first two years of eligibility. He had to really work on his technical skills before being able to crack the starting line-up.
“I wasn’t really that good when I got here, I had to work, Dave had me pinned for about two years until I was ready to start,” said Alexander.
But his tremendous improvement in the past five years has gone exactly how Preston has planned, and Alexander has continued to exceed Preston’s expectations.
“When he first got here in first year he couldn’t continue a rally, he couldn’t make more than a single contact at a time. To see that development is remarkable, and how he has handled all that is even more remarkable,” said Preston.
Alexander is now in his fifth and final year at McMaster, and the progress he has made in the past five years has been incredible. He not only gets to play for one of the most dominant teams in the nation, but he is also one of the most dominant players in the CIS.
“His story will last a long time. That is something that will go down in history. I have been coaching for 20 some odd years, I don’t know if I’ve had a more remarkable story than his. He is one of those top notch kids,” said Preston.
Despite switching sports, Alexander still gets to play a team sport at a very competitive level, and has managed to make a name for himself and reach high goals both athletically and academically.
As for his decision to quit hockey, Alexander lives without regret, as he knows he’ll still get to play the sport whenever he wants to.
“I am happy I did it, no regrets. Whenever I go home I play hockey with my Dad and buddies, any chance I have to go on the ice is good. I will always play, so I’ll never miss it.”