La PORTE — Last year, there were times on the volleyball court when Lexi Joyner doubted herself.
The La Porte senior opposite player has made significant strides in that area and now is more fearless than previous seasons.
“I've improved a lot from last year,” Joyner said. “I feel like I've gotten a lot more confident within myself and been more comfortable playing with this group of girls. And just over the season, we've grown a lot as a team.”
Joyner has developed into a very solid complementary player for the Slicers, joining Aniya Kennedy, Cheyanne Seymour, Annalise Warnock and Paige Conklin to form a potent offense and defense at the net.
La Porte coach Cassie Holmquest has personally witnessed Joyner's transformation and has noticed her steadiness and her reliability.
“She has had a really great season this year,” Holmquest said. “She seems to be a lot more confident this year. She's very consistent this year. She's definitely a go-to player. Overall, her game looks really good.”
Joyner and La Porte (24-5) play its Class 4A Mishawaka Sectional opener at 5 p.m. today against South Bend Adams (9-19), a team it didn't face in the regular season.
Joyner has the second-highest hitting percentage on the team at 29.2 percent.
“That's a really good hitting percentage,” Holmquest said. “Hitting is probably her greatest improvement this year. She's just very consistent.”
Joyner has racked up 150 kills, averaging a little over five kills per match. She's added 23 total blocks.
Joyner, who usually plays the opposite player position, or right side, is flexible and has been asked to switch positions to middle blocker this season to help her team.
“Switching it up sometimes helps because most of the time people watching film on us are like, 'Oh, we need to block No. 2, which would be Aniya (Kennedy),'" Joyner added. "So when we switch it up and they think I'm middle (blocker), it kind of confuses them and gets them out of system. And makes it really easy for us to score."
Joyner's beginnings in the sport were customary.
While in second grade, her father, Duane Joyner, signed her up for a local team at the Dunes Volleyball Club. Following that, Joyner played in middle school, then returned to play at the Dunes Club in seventh grade. Then, in eighth grade, she was named to a Black Team and has stayed with the sport ever since.
“I've always wanted to get a scholarship for college through it,” Joyner said. “So that's what's been motivating me to do it.”
In addition to her volleyball prowess, Joyner thrives in the classroom as well. She's primarily an 'A' and 'B' grade student.
“It's always been ingrained,” Joyner said. “Coach Holmquest always says, 'You're a student first, then an athlete.' Performing in the classroom is just as important as performing on the court. And when it comes to college, they're not just looking at your athletic ability, they're looking at your academics. So it all kind of comes into play together.”
In previous years, Joyner took a couple Advanced Placement (AP) Classes, AP Psychology and AP Studio Art, but this year she's not enrolled in any.
In regards to other extracurricular activities, Joyner's involved with National Honor Society and Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), and she plays intramural volleyball. She also used to participate in track, Girls Reserves, and the Work Ethic Program.
After she graduates next year, Joyner plans on attending college, majoring in Nursing and playing volleyball at the next level.
She said she's still doing a few visits to schools. Joyner already visited Indiana University-South Bend (IUSB), who's coached by former Slicer star Jamie Ashmore, while Ancilla College is also interested in her.
"I really liked coach Jamie and all the girls there made me feel really welcome," she added. "So I'm definitely looking into that school. I have a school coming to watch me play in the sectional Thursday, then hopefully, I'll commit by the end of the month."
After losing to Penn in five games in a sectional semifinal last year, Joyner said that's refocused the squad and it's re-committed itself to claiming the sectional. Even though the formidable Kingsmen are no longer in La Porte's sectional, she added the team isn't overlooking any team.
“Last year, we kind of thought, 'We're state bound,'” Joyner said. “And then, getting us kicked out of the sectional really humbled us. So this year we're not taking anything for granted. Every practice matters. We have this saying, 'Fireball.' It means every point matters.”
Class 4A Mishawaka Sectional
La Porte (24-5) vs. South Bend Adams (9-19)
Today, 5 p.m.