Alyssa D’Aloise once raced death and won.
Well, the NCAA recruiting dead period, anyway. Maybe that’s a bit less dramatic.
But the way D’Aloise became a Mississippi State soccer player was not without its own drama.
On Dec. 13, 2019, the day the midfielder entered the transfer portal from Texas Tech, she and her father John cleaned out her Lubbock apartment. They drove five and a half hours home to Dallas to unload everything, then hopped back in the car the next day, heading east again.
The duo arrived in Starkville eight hours later — the day before the dead period began — to meet with Bulldogs assistant coaches Nick Zimmerman and Brian Dunleavy. For the next four hours, D’Aloise listened and asked questions about Mississippi State’s program. She talked to head coach James Armstrong, in Florida recruiting at the time, over the phone. She took a brief walking tour of the facilities and the campus.
Then she and her father drove straight home to Dallas.
“I was basically clinically insane by the time we got home,” John D’Aloise said.
But on the way back, D’Aloise talked “probably to Vicksburg” about her experience in Starkville. Zimmerman’s enthusiasm. Dunleavy’s calmness. Davis Wade Stadium. The picture D’Aloise took with the Bulldog statue manning the Junction.
“I like the feel, Dad,” D’Aloise said. “I really like the feel.”
She and John drove on, Interstate 20 laid out in front of them in the dark — straight through Louisiana; back home into Texas. There were hours still to go. They didn’t mind.
After all, Alyssa D’Aloise is used to the long road ahead.
Learning to lose
Tom Stone didn’t hesitate.
Asked about D’Aloise on National Signing Day in 2018, the Texas Tech head soccer coach started with two simple words: “Born winner.”
It’s the simple way to describe someone who used to race out of the car first every time the family pulled up in the driveway. D’Aloise — all of 5 or 6 years old — sprinted to the door, tagged it and looked back at her parents.
“We’d be sitting there laughing, saying, ‘Yeah, you won,’” John said. “‘OK, you got there, you won.’”
It was hardly surprising behavior for a soccer player who dribbled with fierce resolve as a tot while her teammates picked flowers on the field.
Who was nicknamed “Butkus” after the linebacker because “she was always getting into a three-point stance and jamming her head into something.”
Who created what her parents called the “buffalo stance” — arms folded across her chest, her bottom lip out and a steely-eyed grin on her face.
It’s a look with a clear meaning, John says: “If you don’t do what I want, I’m going to kick your ass.”
Over the years with the Dallas Sting soccer club and at Ursuline Academy, D’Aloise built herself into the player capable of doing just that. But it couldn’t have happened without a shocking loss.
Ursuline — winners of 24 TAPPS state titles in a row — headed from Dallas to Waco for the 2015 championship match against Bishop Lynch High School. In an ice storm with the temperature under 30 degrees and the wind chill below 20, the Bears lost 2-1, breaking the win streak and reducing every Ursuline player to tears.
Except D’Aloise, who surveyed her teammates crying on the field. Despite the sting of the loss, she calmly walked over to the referees to shake their hands and thank them for officiating the game.
The next year, Ursuline beat Bishop Lynch 1-0, reclaiming the title. Again, D’Aloise restrained her emotions. For a while.
“She acted like a professional — until she saw me standing up along the fence, and she ran over, climbed the fence and threw herself into my arms, which was a very emotional moment,” John said.
The state championship — the first of three D’Aloise won with the Bears — was a big deal.
But her experience as a freshman might have been more important.
“She learned how to lose, and she learned something else,” John said. “She didn’t like it.”
‘The only thing I’d ever done’
Perhaps the only thing D’Aloise liked less than losing was not playing at all.
In a 2018 club match during D’Aloise’s senior year, an opposing player stepped on her right ankle and rolled it to the side. It was a dirty play, John D’Aloise said, but one that happens often to players in his daughter’s position.
“They have what’s called ‘midfield ankle,’ where if you play in the middle of the field and you always have the ball at your feet, people are always going to try and get that ball away, so you get kicked in the ankles a lot,” John said.
D’Aloise broke her ankle, and the ligaments in her right foot were stretched to their limit. To keep D’Aloise from reinjury, the first orthopedic surgeon the family visited recommended a surgery that would keep her off the field for an entire year.
“I thought Alyssa was going to explode,” John said.
But Dr. Eugene Curry at the Carrell Clinic examined D’Aloise and told her there was a way for her to fix the injury and return in up to six months. After reconstructive surgery, D’Aloise made her way back to the field in four and a half months on the now-indestructible appendage her dad calls “Frankenfoot.”
“That was a hard time for me because it was kind of the first (time) sitting out of soccer, since that’s like the only thing I’d ever done,” D’Aloise said.
Texas Tech offered to let D’Aloise redshirt her freshman year. She declined, playing in 13 matches with one start. As a sophomore, D’Aloise started four times and appeared in 12 contests.
But by the end of the 2019 season, D’Aloise realized something was wrong. Communication was sputtering between her and Stone, the coach who was the reason she was in Lubbock in the first place.
“She came to Texas Tech to play for him,” John said. “She didn’t come to Texas Tech to visit the Buddy Holly museum or go out to the Llano Estacado wine fields.”
At the end of the semester — multiple weeks after the Red Raiders’ season ended so as not to be a distraction — D’Aloise requested a one-on-one meeting with Stone. She wrote a draft of what she wanted to tell him and practiced giving the speech to her roommate.
A week later, D’Aloise finally got a minute to see her coach. She told Stone she was going to enter the transfer portal and that there was nothing he could do to change her mind.
It was Dec. 10. Time was already running out.
‘What have we done here?’
After helping recruit Sting players to colleges for 10 years, John said his priorities are clear.
“They’ve got to go there for an education,” he said. “That’s the reason they should be looking at a school. Too many athletes get caught up in their sport and don’t realize.”
So when his daughter and her 4.0 GPA decided to transfer, academics were paramount. Mississippi State was a match.
“Alyssa is intellectually stimulated by the professors at MSU,” John said. “She was not before. I don’t mean to be derogatory towards Texas Tech. Some schools are better than others. And MSU is a great academic school.”
Of course, that didn’t ease the process of coming in midseason, a hectic period neither of the D’Aloises wants to experience again. After a three-day wait to even get into the transfer portal and begin contacting coaches, they had to deal with the application and move-in processes — over winter break, no less. Classes started Jan. 6, 2020, but D’Aloise had to wait until her transcripts could be forwarded from Texas Tech.
Head coach James Armstrong called D’Aloise to inform her that her application to Mississippi State was officially approved on Jan. 4 — the day she moved in.
“Well, good,” she replied. “I’m here.”
Upon arrival, the three roommates who hadn’t returned her calls when she found out where she was living were again absent. One briefly said hello before retreating to her room when she found D’Aloise, her father and her mother Kelly moving in.
Then, for the first time, D’Aloise showed hesitation. She looked at John, suddenly defeated.
“I can’t believe you’re leaving me here,” she said.
Her parents left, but concern filled their minds.
“After that, Kelly and I are driving back eight hours, and I’m not happy. She’s not happy,” John said. “It’s like, ‘What have we done here?’”
The D’Aloises had taken a chance, and they were unsure if it was going to pay off. Of course, the same was true for Mississippi State in bringing aboard a player the Bulldogs barely knew.
“It was a complete roll of the dice, to be perfectly honest,” Armstrong said, “and it was one of the best things we’ve done so far.”
The same goes for the player who first arrived in Starkville “on a whim” and amidst a whirlwind.
“Honestly, I came here, loved it, and now, I rarely go home,” D’Aloise said.
‘A tough go of things’
But her time at Mississippi State has been anything but easy.
In one of her first practices in spring 2020, D’Aloise was the victim of a tough slide tackle. She played through the injury — until she suffered a stress fracture of the talus bone in her left ankle.
That fall in a match against LSU, D’Aloise leapt for a ball in the air and was shoved by a Tigers player, dislocating her right kneecap. When she landed with the kneecap out of place, she hyperextended her knee and tore her posterior cruciate ligament. Her third significant injury in as many years kept her out the rest of the fall season.
Additionally, D’Aloise played through stomach pains during the spring 2021 season and ended up having her gallbladder removed May 28 following a litany of tests. This fall, she tested positive for COVID-19 and missed three matches — canceled contests with Southern Miss and Belmont as well as a loss at 2-0 LSU. Unable to play, D’Aloise felt responsible for the 2-0 loss to the Tigers.
As if that wasn’t enough, the past year has been marked by a string of personal losses. John picked his daughter up in Oxford on Oct. 2, 2020, to tell D’Aloise her grandfather had died. On July 19, her favorite aunt, Patricia “Trish” Stolfi — D’Aloise’s biggest fan who made cookies for the team — died suddenly in Pensacola, Florida.
D’Aloise’s cousin Dorothy died two weeks later; her cousin Kenneth died two weeks after that.
“I’ve had a tough go of things, unfortunately,” D’Aloise said.
But she got through it with the help of her family and her current and former teammates and coaches, who supported D’Aloise throughout the bad moments and the good ones. On Sept. 30, she scored on a difficult volley in the ninth minute of an eventual 1-0 win against Kentucky.
As a defensive midfielder, D’Aloise had never managed a goal at Texas Tech or as yet with the Bulldogs. Her first score brought an “indescribable feeling.”
“Honestly, it’s not really the goal itself that I’ll never forget; it’s the reaction of my teammates,” D’Aloise said. “They were more excited for me than I was for myself, and that was a really cool thing that is obviously going to stay with me for a really long time.”
And if D’Aloise’s first goal was great, her second was even better. In the 89th minute Thursday against Texas A&M, she passed the ball to teammate Onyi Echegini, got it back just outside the box and sent a shot from a tough angle that cleared goalkeeper Jordan Burbank.
It was the Bulldogs’ second goal in less than five minutes, and D’Aloise leapt in the air, pure joy on her face. Barely 60 seconds later, the final whistle blew on a 2-1 win over the Aggies.
After the match, D’Aloise called John. She critiqued her jumping ability and outlined paths to qualifying for the upcoming Southeastern Conference tournament.
Then she told him she had to go. She had an online exam due by midnight.
“It was off to the races,” John said.
For Alyssa D’Aloise, that’s how it’s always been.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.