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UTEP getting star with ‘class and character’

Robertson's Alianza Darley has accepted a scholarship to play volleyball at the University of Texas-El Paso. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Robertson’s Alianza Darley has accepted a scholarship to play volleyball at the University of Texas-El Paso. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE, N.M. — When Alianza Darley steps on the court, there’s just one thing she wants: to win.

She doesn’t particularly care what her stats look like and it doesn’t bother her if one of her teammates is in the limelight.

All she wants is to play the best she can to give her Robertson High School cohorts their top shot at victory.

It’s that win-at-all-costs attitude and her ability to lift her teammates up while maintaining her own high standard of play in sports of every season that made Darley an easy choice as this school year’s Journal North prep female athlete of the year.

“I would have been surprised if you had chosen anybody else,” said her volleyball coach, Stacy Fulgenzi.

Alianza Darley won the Class 3A 400-meter run at this year's state meet. (Glen Rosales/For Journal North)

Alianza Darley won the Class 3A 400-meter run at this year’s state meet. (Glen Rosales/For Journal North)

Darley was one of those rare New Mexico athletes who was recruited in two different sports, attracting notice for both volleyball and basketball. Most of the attention was focused on basketball since she led the Cardinals to the Class 3A state championship. For good measure, after several years of not doing high school track, she ended up winning the 400-meter run at the recent state meet.

But when it came time to choose what she wanted to do next, Darley decided UTEP’s volleyball offer was just too good to pass up.

“At the end, when I was trying to decide which one, it wasn’t volleyball or basketball, it was more what school,” she said. “I enjoyed playing both and I didn’t care which sport I played in college as long as I got to play.”

For Darley, volleyball was actually one of the last sports she tried, not picking it up until middle school. And she never hit the club circuit in the sport.

Her first sport was actually soccer in kindergarten, then basketball came along in the second grade.

“I fell in love with it right away,” Darley said of hoops. “Volley in seventh grade, I just joined the team and fell in love with it, too, but I was always in love with basketball.”

She put up some gaudy basketball numbers as a senior, with 21 points a game, nine rebounds, four assists and five steals.

Alianza Darley won the Class 3A 400-meter run at this year's state meet. (Glen Rosales/For Journal North)

Alianza Darley won the Class 3A 400-meter run at this year’s state meet. (Glen Rosales/For Journal North)

Although easily tall enough to play the post, Darley frequently played point guard, making her a match-up nightmare for opponents as she could shoot over most other guards and could drive past opposing posts who would try to guard her on the perimeter.

“She puts a lot of time in,” said Robertson coach José “Majik” Medina. “Whether it’s on the practice court or on her own at the rec center or at Highlands, whatever gym she could get into. Ball handling, shooting, playing pick up ball against guys. That’s helped her develop her game.”

Before taking over Robertson this past season, Medina coached across town at West Las Vegas and had to deal with Darley at least twice a season, so he was quite happy to get a chance to be on her side for a change.

“She’s a good role model,” he said. “She leads by example. She works hard every day. She’s good to her teammates, and motivates and pumps her teammates up. She pushes them to work to be at the next level.”

Off-the-court star

But as impressive as she is on the court, it’s away from the court that really sets her apart, her coaches said.

Darley graduated with a 3.8 grade-point average, was a member of the National Honor Society, and volunteered at Los Niños Elementary School and the local Head Start program.

“And to top it off, she’s a good person,” Medina said. “Everything she did in the community, the school, on the basketball court, church, she represents herself with class and character.”

She tucked in her volunteer work between the end of school day at noon and before practice started in the afternoon.

“I would help out the teachers, talk to the kids,” Darley said. “I really like helping the Head Start four-year-olds and five-year-olds. I play with them outside. I just love little kids. They’re so fun. Some of them actually know me from going to the high school games.”

Fun is how she describes volleyball, particularly because it is such a team-reliant sport.

“I feel like in volleyball, well basketball is a team sport, but volleyball, you really need all your teammates,” Darley said. “Basketball, you can go off individually. In volleyball, you need the back row to get a good pass and you need the setter to get a good set. You can’t beat a team by yourself. It’s easier to be an individual in basketball than volleyball.”

One of her favorite parts of the game is playing the block on the net.

“I’m really tall so I block really well,” Darley said. “And I move fast, I think that’s because of basketball. I’m so long, balls that people don’t think I can get, I would get.”

That’s one of the pleasures of coaching her, Fulgenzi said.

“She is just an all-around player,” she said. “Such a force, especially on offense. Very fun to watch play. She does some pretty amazing things. She does things I’ve never seen before. It’s going to be exciting to see her grow at the next level.”

Those long arms swat balls that would fly right over other players, Fulgenzi said.

“One of the biggest things is her blocking,” she said. “She has such long arms, there’s times that you think the ball is going to come over the net and out of nowhere, goes back to the other side. And it freaks out the other side. That’s pretty cool.”

What’s more, the middle blocker position is generally underappreciated. But it didn’t surprise Fulgenzi that Darley prefers it.

“She’s really good at it and seems to enjoy it,” she said. “Being a middle blocker is a lot of work. You have to move side to side and get to wherever the ball is set. She’s done a great job of doing that and is just very impressive.”

Being careful

When it comes to track, Darley said she didn’t compete the past few years because it conflicted with club basketball season. But this spring, she thought she would give it a whirl, which kind of put coach Adam Martinez in a bit of an awkward position.

“After timing her and working her out at practice, the 400 was the area she really excelled,” he said. “But she was just as good in the 200. Anywhere you put her, I was not going to tell her no and I was going to give her a chance.”

That opportunity, however, had to be curtailed a bit.

“I know she was high jumping, but we really had to be cautious with what she did,” Martinez said. “I didn’t want to be responsible for her getting hurt. And the university (UTEP) had a little bit of influence. We tried to play it smart and give her the opportunity to get to Albuquerque for the state meet.”

Darley said she plans to study kinesiology and will take to her academic work with the same diligence she did in high school.

“I feel like sports help me thrive in the classroom,” she said. “I had a reason to stay on top of my work. If I fell off it, I wouldn’t be able to play or practice and that would bother me because I would be letting down my teammates. If I didn’t stay on top of my grade, I wouldn’t be able to be as successful on the court.”