Madison High School senior Lexi Garner calls herself the ‘odd ball’ in her family.
The Garners are runners, and she grew up running and playing basketball. Her athletic pursuits changed course in eighth grade, however, when classmate Chloe Miller encouraged her to try out for volleyball. Garner accompanied Miller to tryouts, was chosen as a middle blocker due to her height and, after playing a few matches, discovered she genuinely enjoyed the sport. So much so that when her parents suggested she focus on one sport once volleyball began conflicting with basketball, she chose volleyball.
Garner said there was some hesitancy regarding eighth grade club tryouts, however, as she wondered if she could compete with more experienced players. When she didn’t attend club tryouts, Madison head coach Meranda Maestas called her.
“I call her my second mom,” Garner said. “I definitely wouldn’t have played if she hadn’t reached out to me.”
The recruiting efforts of Miller and Maestas paid off in a big way as Garner set herself apart as one of the best players of any classification in Idaho four years later.
The 6-foot middle blocker accumulated 289 kills, 129 blocks and 52 digs in a senior season that earned her praise for her court vision, consistency, her ability to get around a block and then hit a ball high out of reach and bury a kill. Her on and off court demeanor was also acknowledged by District 6 coaches, who commended her leadership on a Madison varsity team consisting of all underclassmen save for her and Miller.
Basketball player turned star middle blocker for the 39-5 5A state champion Bobcats, Garner can now add the title 2018 Post Register All-Area Volleyball Player of the Year to her resume.
Hillcrest coach Amanda Wade, whose team played the Bobcats twice this season, said what makes Garner fun to watch is how smart she is in keeping opponents guessing.
“She’s not gonna go for that hammer time kill every time,” Wade said. “She’s gonna mix up her shots and make the defense work.”
Maestas said Garner’s competitiveness as well as her ability to encourage and inspire her teammates reached a new level as a senior. Those characteristics took root after her sophomore season, however, when she texted Maestas asking how she could improve her vertical. Maestas said she would have to start lifting weights and incorporating a jumping program, and Maestas would only be able to attend those workouts if they took place early morning before school. Garner agreed to it, and she has kept it up ever since, balancing those workouts with school and an after school job.
“For two years now, I go up to Rexburg every morning in the offseason and she’s consistently there every single day,” Maestas said. “We’ve started to get other girls coming in and younger girls coming in. This year she’s jumping higher and is stronger and more confident. For her it’s not just setting an example for the team, but for the whole program.”
Garner said this season had a sense of urgency to it due to being a senior, and she knew the Bobcats had potential to go far. There was also greater motivation after consecutive 5A state third place trophies her sophomore and junior seasons.
“I’d been to state and I know what it’s like to lose at state,” Garner said. “Going into the season and seeing the potential we had on this team, we knew it was definitely doable this year.”
That sense of urgency came out at state. The Bobcats outlasted defending 5A state runner-up Lake City in a five-set semifinal match in what Garner called one of the 'craziest games I've ever played' and then fell to Skyview 26-24, 25-21, 25-17 to force an if-necessary state championship match. During that loss, Garner said she let nerves get to her for the first time in her career. Maestas noticed and took her aside.
“She said, ‘You’ve worked too hard to play like this,’” Garner said. “’You’ve done too many early morning workouts to play like this. Your team is counting on you.'"
Garner took that to heart for the if-necessary game, which Madison won 25-18, 25-23 off a game-winning kill by Garner’s sophomore teammate Charity Wilson.
Garner said the state title was a bittersweet realization of playing her last high school match, but the blue trophy fulfilled her ambition of ending on a high note.'
“It’s kind of a blur,” Garner said. “It was definitely pure joy when it hit the floor. We were all so exhausted.”
Garner signs this week with Snow College, a school she circled back to after considering Idaho State and Division II schools, and aspires to later join a bigger school if 'all goes as planned.' She leaves a Madison program that Maestas said has greatly benefited from the examples she and Miller set.
“It makes my job easier when everyone is on board with all the hard work necessary to win a state championship,” Maestas said. “Sometimes it is better coming from a peer than an adult."
Garner said it is ironic that the sport she is pursuing at the college level wasn’t her original sport, but she is grateful for the course Miller and Maestas sent her on and she anticipates volleyball remaining part of her adult life.
“It’s kinda funny that volleyball is the one that stole my heart in eighth grade and it has really changed my life,” Garner said. “I would like to be a part of volleyball any way I can, whether that’s having my kids play or coaching somewhere.”