By David Willis
---- — ANDOVER — Tell Alec Dean he plays volleyball like the girls.
Go ahead, feel free. Dean takes it as a compliment.
“Growing up I learned to play volleyball while playing with and against girls,” said Dean proudly. “The girls’ game is totally different and it taught me so much about the game. Once I started playing against the guys it clicked right away.”
Whatever the route, the reigning Eagle-Tribune All-Star and two-time All-Merrimack Valley Conference pick Dean certainly learned how to star on the volleyball court.
The senior outside hitter — who earned early admission to Cornell — is the captain and top player for the Andover High volleyball team, which stands at 2-2 so far this season.
“Alec brings tremendous skills to the court,” Warriors coach E.J. Perry said. “He has great skill and lots of experience as a three-year starter and two-year captain. He is a well-respected leader and a great player.”
Dean credits those skills — which allowed him to average 15 kills a match last season — to his unique start in the sport.
“My dad got me into playing volleyball in elementary school,” he said. “At both High Plain Elementary School and Wood Hill Middle School, there was an after-school volleyball program. No guys played, so I was always playing with and against girls.
“That is how I learned the game, and it really helped a lot. The girls’ game is a totally different game. It is very focused on passing, not hitting like the guys. So playing with the girls helped make me a strong passer. Once I moved to the guys’ game, hitting came pretty easy to me.”
Dean earned a starting job as libero as a freshman. But gaining the poise to star against much older players did not come immediately.
“It was probably about three games in when I stared to feel comfortable,” Dean said. “During that game, our coach then (Dave Kuykendall) pulled me aside and yelled at me for being too nervous. He told me, ‘You are better than most of the guys on the court. Play like it.’ After that, I started playing the girls’ game that came naturally to me, and it worked.”
He continued to break out as a sophomore, earning All-MVC honors. Again playing libero, he led the Warriors with 281 serves received and was third in digs (163) and aces (27).
But he faced a new challenge heading into last season, as Kuykendall stepped down due to work commitments and football coach E.J. Perry, a former state volleyball champion coach in Salem, took over as head man.
“We really went in not knowing what to expect,” Dean said. “I had talked to my friends from Salem and they said he was very intense. I was nervous. It was almost like going back to my freshman year and trying out again. But it soon became natural with Coach Perry.”
Moving to outside hitter, he averaged 15 kills, six digs and four blocks a match last spring, again earning All-MVC honors. This year he’s playing with his freshman brother Devin.
“It’s a little bit weird having my brother there,” Alec admitted. “I try to push him, but I don’t want to push him too hard just because he’s my brother. He’s exactly like me out there when I was a freshman. He grew up playing with the girls, too, so he is learning the boys’ game. I like having him out there. I know I can trust him.”