By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Dave Argyle (DBA Photography)
On the first day of school nine years ago, third-grader Alexsa Parker was on her way to volleyball practice at Snow Canyon High School, where her mother, Alaina was the head coach when she had a bike accident. From that day until now, nine years later, Parker has been known simply as “Crash.”
“It was the first day of school and I was riding my bike from school to volleyball practice, Parker said. “I was riding down this hill that’s right next to our high school and I got speed wobbles at the bottom and just (crashed). Some girls saw me and they took me to my mom, and all the girls, to try to make me feel better, started calling me “Crash.” It’s just kind of been there for…ever.”
A New Name
Crash has embraced the name, as have those closest to her, and it’s reached the point where many people don’t even know her given name. “Half the people at my school don’t know my real name,” Parker said.
“I had a kid ask me the other day, ‘Ms. Parker, can I ask you a question?’ Alaina, who is in her 15th year teaching and coaching at Snow Canyon said. “‘What is Crash’s real name?’ And I said, ‘It’s Alexsa Morgan Parker,’ and he said, ‘I thought she was too pretty to just be ‘Crash.'”
Alaina sees the “Crash” in her daughter not in reckless behavior, but in an attitude that has allowed her to become one of the state’s most talented and most decorated volleyball players.
“She’s been Crash for so long,” Alaina said. “It’s funny because her personality is pretty laid back, but when she does step on the volleyball court, she’s got a quiet intensity and I think her teammates have so much confidence because they know she’s going to do work and she doesn’t mind getting on the floor and getting dirty and all of those things. I think that kind of epitomizes the whole Crash thing.”
The Crash Parker the world sees is an amazing athlete, one of the state’s best volleyball players, and a superstar who has earned a scholarship to play at New Mexico State. The senior is the leader of a Snow Canyon team that entered the 2015 Class 3A state tournament prepared to defend the state title it won a year ago.
Crash tried other sports when she was younger, but she has always found volleyball to be her first love.
“When I was really little, I played soccer, but that died,” Crash said. “I don’t like running. Then, I would play basketball and softball, but freshman year, I got rid of those other two. Growing up in her (mom’s) gym and in my dad’s gym, I noticed how good the girls were and how fast it was and how fun it was. I always loved it.”
Alaina speaks for all of them when she says they are drawn to volleyball because they love the pace of the game.
“When she (Crash) was younger and played soccer, it was too slow for her,” Alaina said. “She played on a softball team that had a great pitcher, so she did a lot of standing around. With basketball, the same thing – you might run up and down the court 20 times and nobody scores a point. The speed, there’s always something on the line. There’s a point scored every time that ball is served and that’s nice.”
A big part of Crash is the outstanding person she is, and much of that comes from her relationship with her nearly 13-year-old brother Camden, who has a rare genetic condition, Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome.
“He doesn’t walk and he doesn’t talk. He’s wheel-chair bound,” Crash said. “He’s always at everything, always happy to be there. He doesn’t complain. Just having him makes you want to work harder and it’s humbling, for sure.”
Her close relationship with Camden gives her an up-close look at his challenges and make Crash appreciate so much more everything she has. It has also had a major impact on the other players in the Snow Canyon volleyball program.
“I think it makes us appreciate people who are different,” Alaina said.
“It makes me grateful for everything just because he can’t do what almost everyone can,” Crash added. “Being able to just walk and do whatever I want, and talking, it makes you grateful for sure. All the girls love him. He’s a little brother to all of us, so they see him and go over to hold his hands and play with him. He just loves it, smiles and claps.”
“His favorite place to be is in the gym with these girls,” Alaina said.
Alaina feels that both of her daughters (Crash’s older sister Ciara currently plays volleyball at Brigham Young University) are shaped by a special family dynamic.
“One thing I think that people don’t really expect or know about her, especially people who are just on the outside looking in, is that she is very humble,” Alaina said in describing Crash. “She is very compassionate. I think growing up with Camden, both of my girls are that way, always rooting and a champion for the underdog.
“She’s a special-needs intern at our high school, so she works with the special needs kids. She’s an ambassador and she does service stuff. She organized our ‘dig pink’ match for two kids whose moms are battling breast cancer. A lot of times we see good athletes and we don’t expect them to have that level of humility. Her peers, who are watching, know that about her.”
Coming to St. George
The Parker family moved to St. George 15 years ago and have become fixtures in the high school sports community. Jeff Parker was the volleyball coach at Dixie State for seven years, and when Ciara started high school. he got out of college coaching. Jeff is now a football and baseball coach at Hurricane High.
Alaina was born and raised mostly in New Mexico, where she gained much of the experience that have helped her lead the Warriors to six state championships over the last 15 years.
“I played volleyball in high school, ran track in high school. I did not play in college,” Alaina said. “My dad was a football coach and a baseball coach, coached high school football for 49 years, so I just come from an athletic background and lots of good coaching examples in my life.”
Growing up in a volleyball coaching family was a great training ground for Ciara and Crash. Ciara was a setter at Snow Canyon, but plays libero collegiately at BYU. Crash, an outside hitter in high school, is also headed for a position change as she will set at New Mexico State.
Both developed a thorough understanding of the whole game because of their exposure to the sport and Alaina describes her daughters “very versatile.”
“They challenge themselves to be very good at everything they do on the floor. That will be a completely new realm for her,” Alaina said. “We always say if you really want to be good at something, it’s 10,000 hours, and she’s (Crash) grown up in a gym. Where other kids are playing with rocks and sticks outside, she was playing volleyball and setting against a wall. I think it’s been huge for their understanding of the game, her and Ciara both, to have a greater appreciation as a passer for what that setter has to do or as a setter, for what that hitter has to accomplish with what you do with the ball. I think overall, they have a greater appreciation for what their teammates have to do. Their volleyball IQ is through the roof.”
The sisters have a strong bond, but both have high expectations of each other and will, on occasion, provide constructive criticism.
“I’d say we’re pretty close. We can talk about a lot of things together and just hang out,” Crash said. “She is more fiery, jump around, in your face, and I’m more (relaxed). That’s the biggest difference. We still argue all the time. We can be very critical of each other.”
“They’re very competitive with each other,” Alaina added. “Neither one of them ever plays good in the other one’s eyes. They’re always picking apart what they can do better. I wouldn’t say it’s so much critical. They understand the abilities of each other and they want to make sure we don’t get too comfortable doing what we’re doing and so they really push each other in that regard.”
Being coached by your mother on a high school team can create an interesting situation that most athletes never experience. Crash mostly loves playing for her mom, but there have been moments.
I like it, but then other times, it’s…,” Crash said. “Sometimes she doesn’t switch from coach to mom when we come home and she stays as coach. I like it because I can ask questions and not feel nervous about it.”
Alaina feels the family has learned and grown a lot from the chance she’s had to coach her daughters.
“That’s something we’ve really had to work on and we’ve had to grow as a family,” Alaina said. “I was Ciara’s coach also and every once in a while you’ve got to put them in their place. They’re really good – they call me coach in the gym, they don’t call me mom. It’s been a growing process.
“As they’ve matured, they’ve gotten better at taking the feedback. At the end of the day, they realize now, if I’m giving criticism, it’s to help them get better. It’s gotten easier with maturity, that’s for sure. There’s still some things that are hard to take from their parents.”
This Warrior Season
Winning the state championship in 2014 put the Parkers in position to play out this final year at Snow Canyon as defending state champions, but Crash doesn’t feel they played this season with a target on their backs.
“We lost five seniors last year, and all of them started,” Crash said. “Because the five of them started, it took most of the target away. All of us came in this year thinking we’re not as good as we were last year, we’re not as big, and I think that also helps motivate us a lot. We know we’ve lost some height and size. We have skill, that’s always nice to have.
“I don’t think we have a target on our back this year even though we won it last year. I think Morgan has a target because they haven’t lost yet. I think because we don’t have it, we kind of want it. Having the target makes you work harder because you want to keep it and you don’t want to disappoint.
As it turns out, Morgan was able to ride that experience to this year’s state championship, but with all of the new faces on the court, this Warrior team had a strong season in reaching the state tournament finale.
“I think the competition definitely drives us a lot, but just us as a group, we’re very motivated to do our best and to work our hardest,” Crash said. “It always helps to have a ‘Morgan’ out there, it’s definitely motivating, but I think it’s mostly in our group that we motivate each other.”
The work ethic of this year’s group of players makes it one of Alaina’s favorite teams. Her general motivation with every team allows the players to grow individually and as a group.
“They set goals every day and they come in and work for their goals,” Alaina said. “They compete every day in practice, and that’s motivating, so I think that they do a good job motivating themselves. We rarely talk about anybody else, we talk about what we can control, what we’re doing in our gym. Their goal is to put together the best performance they possibly can. We say the goal is not on the win, but playing as hard as we can as a team, and then the winning takes care of itself.
“I’ve had some really fabulous teams over the years and sometimes you have players that are really talented, but they don’t always think they’ve got something to work on. Their willingness to sacrifice and play their role and hone their skill set, it’s been incredible. We’ve got such a nice personality. I tell them they’ve got the stuff that champions are made of because they do battle, they’ve been tested.”
Alaina also loves the maturity of the support network that surrounds the volleyball program at Snow Canyon. It starts with the players, but it doesn’t end there.
“They have a lot of respect for their opponents,” Alaina said. “We were playing a match the other night and a girl, who had formerly played at Snow Canyon, went up to swing at a ball and completely missed the ball. Her teammates were laughing at her, and our team just regrouped and waited for them to finish.
They didn’t laugh at her because anyone who’s played volleyball for any time, we know that happens. Our crowd didn’t laugh, we just waited and regrouped and got ready. To me, that shows the maturity that champions are like – true, good, respect for somebody’s efforts. This little bunch has been above and beyond my expectations, probably above and beyond other teams I’ve had.”
Alaina Parker just completed her 15th year as the volleyball coach at Snow Canyon. During the previous 14 seasons, her teams have won six state championships. Three of those were won when Ciara was part of her teams, and last year, she won her first with Crash. She has announced that this will be her final year on the bench. She and Jeff have important things to do.
“Ciara’s at BYU and she’s going to graduate and Crash is going to go on and play,” Alaina said. “We want to be able to watch her, but probably the biggest thing…we almost lost Camden two years ago, twice within the scope of about a month, and those things give you perspective. It’ll be his turn and we’ll focus on him.
“We’ll go and watch Crash play and we’ll follow whatever Ciara starts to do. At the end of the day, you spend so much time with everybody else’s kids that it’s his turn to be the focus and he’s earned it. We don’t want to have any regrets when it comes to him. We don’t want to continue to coach and spend our time with other people’s kids and then turn around one day and we don’t have that opportunity to do that with him. We’ve learned a lot from him.”
But the last 15 years have been special for the Parker family, and as Crash and Alaina move on to new opportunities, the memories are a big part of who they are.
“It’s been such a blessing,” Alaina said. “When I started at Snow Canyon High School, Ciara was seven, Crash was three, and my whole thought was I want to do something cool for my kids, that they can be a part of, where we can spend time together.
“I think that’s some of the best moments in our lives, some of the biggest moments in their lives we’ve gotten to do together and that’s priceless. We’ve got so many memories and so many things we’ve gotten to accomplish together that it’s priceless. It’s just incredible.”