Alex Warren knew she wasn’t done.
As much as a victory against Ole Miss would have been an ideal way to close her volleyball career, Warren felt she had more to do.
Anyone who watched the Mississippi State volleyball team’s 3-1 win against Ole Miss on Nov. 27, 2015, would have agreed. Warren was a driving force in the Bulldogs’ season sweep of the Rebels with a career-high 25 kills. The victory helped MSU secure its first back-to-back victories against Ole Miss since 2009.
But Warren wanted more.
A conversation with MSU volleyball coach David McFatrich gave her the confidence she could realize her goal and play professional volleyball, so Warren set out to make her dream a reality.
That goal is within Warren’s grasp as she is set to begin play next month with the Clubul Sportiv Municipal Lugoj in Romania.
“I am a pretty optimistic person, so once I go about doing something I am going to do it right,” said Warren, a 6-foot-1 right-side hitter. “I didn’t have any negative thoughts about it.”
Warren’s senior season at MSU helped make it easier for McFatrich to help her begin her path to professional volleyball. Warren, who is from San Antonio, Texas, was second on the team in kills (371), kills per set (3.47), and total blocks (65) in 2015. Her performance helped MSU have one of its best seasons (17-15 overall, 6-12 in the Southeastern Conference) in recent memory.
Warren’s play down the stretch proved it wasn’t time for her to stop playing. Her 25-kill effort against Ole Miss marked the second time in three matches she had at least 20 kills, and the fourth time in 2015. She also had 10 kills in the fourth set, which was the second time she accomplished that feat in the season.
McFatrich believed Warren had the potential to play professionally, but he said she raised her level as a senior, which made it easier for him to refer her to Steve Welch, a friend who works with SIM Gratton, an international professional sports agency.
“They saw a player who is 6-1, maybe 6-2, and jumps out of the gym,” said McFatrich, who is in his second season at MSU’s volleyball coach. “She is an incredible athlete. She is so fluid and graceful. I don’t think I have ever coached a player who is as graceful and fluid as Alex Warren. They’re thinking this girl has long-term potential to be a great volleyball player.”
Warren shares in that optimism. She signed a nine-month contract in February or March of 2016 for terms she said she isn’t allowed to discuss. She said she will have a place to live and opportunity to hone her skills against players in a “mid-level league” that is a typical league that a first-year professional player would start in, Welch said. He said the best leagues in the world are in Italy, Turkey, and Russia.
Welch said his agency had a previous relationship with Clubul Sportiv Municipal Lugo, so they trusted their opinion of Warren. He said it helped that she received a strong reference from McFatrich and that Warren’s full-match videos showed her versatility, athleticism, and potential.
“Alex has a great deal of physical potential,” Welch said in an email response to questions. With experience and improvements in her technique, there is no doubt she can move up to better leagues and earn more money.”
Welch said the last time he checked that there are 500 men and women from colleges in the United States playing volleyball in Europe. He said the U.S. has a “very good reputation” when it comes to the sport, and that the U.S. and Brazil have the most foreign players playing in Europe.
Working for an agency that has been in business more than 20 years, Welch isn’t sure if Warren is the only former MSU player playing in Europe.
Warren isn’t worried about if she is the first player from MSU to go on to play in Europe. Instead, she is focused on making the most of what she feels will be a “first step” to bigger and better things. She said she is excited to travel and to have experiences other former college athletes wouldn’t get to have. The kicker is she will get paid to do it.
Warren said it “awesome” to imagine that someone who didn’t start playing club volleyball until her junior year in high school is now getting an opportunity to play professional volleyball.
“It is crazy to think from where I started that I have come all the way here. It is insane,” Warren said. “I think the main reason I was able to realize my goal is my dad (Al) pushed me a lot. He really, really pushed me with volleyball.”
Warren said her father might have been more excited than she was when she received the news she had secured a professional contract. She said the belief her father and McFatrich showed in her helped her attack her dream and work through any obstacles. She said that is the way she always has operated, and that is the way she will continue to go now that she is a professional.
“When I do something I have to do it right,” Warren said. “I never put half left into something. If I have a chance to go for something, I am going to go for it.”
That is the same drive McFatrich saw in Warren last season. He beamed about Warren and her accomplishment prior to the start of MSU’s 2016 season. He believes her attitude and her work ethic are going to help her make an impression in Europe.
“I can’t take much credit because she had some serious athleticism and most of this is on her God-given ability,” McFatrich said. “I want my players to leave here being great volleyball players, great pros, or if they want to be a landscape architect or be the best mom they can be. I am as proud of Alex as I am of any of them.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.