By Dave Krider
Her first love was basketball. As the tallest girl in her grade school class, Alix Klineman would "just drive to the basket and everybody would run away," she says. "I enjoyed it until I started getting beaten up by girls [who seemed to be] 100 pounds heavier than me."
The willowy Klineman, who grew up three blocks from the ocean in Manhattan Beach, Calif., found refuge on a sandier court. At age eight she attended her first volleyball camp with her older brother, Max, who is now a sophomore setter at UC Santa Barbara. She was hooked, and pestered big bro to practice with her. "We would play pepper every day until we got into an argument," Alix says.
Now 6'5", Klineman enters her senior year at Mira Costa High as the top-ranked player in the country, according to PrepVolleyball.com. The website's editor, John Tawa, calls Klineman, an outside hitter, the best talent he's seen in years. "She does everything well -- she can pass and play defense, and she's a tremendous blocker," he says. "But attacking is her calling card. She contacts the ball above 10 feet and hits it down at such an angle that no back-row player can get the ball up."
Thanks to year-round training that has bulked her up to 165 pounds, Klineman is now the one delivering on-court punishment, having broken a couple of her opponents' fingers with ferocious spikes. She led Mira Costa to a Division I state title last year, and she finished her junior season with 350 kills, 35 aces and 179 digs. She followed that last month by winning a gold medal with the U.S. team at the Women's Junior Championships in Mexico.
The 16-year-old Klineman, who carries a 3.9 GPA and plans to major in communications, has narrowed her choice of colleges to Hawaii, Stanford, Texas, UCLA and Washington. She's used to being in demand. While in Hawaii for a tournament three years ago, her coach, Dae Lea Aldrich, was approached by a film producer who asked if Klineman would be interested in modeling. Aldrich promptly spiked his offer. "Alix won't be modeling," she said. "She's an athlete."