Since stepping onto FAU's campus during the summer of 2015, Alex Cardona
has transformed from a role player into an explosive defensive specialist. The rising senior's grit and relentless effort has not only amazed both fans and teammates but also has landed her in the FAU record books.
As Cardona's time as an Owl winds down, she is looking to end her impressive career with the Owls the only way she knows how — on top.
The Kissimmee native's love affair with volleyball began at 13 when she joined the Orlando Tampa Volleyball Academy. Some of her fondest childhood memories were with the team travelling to new, exciting cities. Club season was a family affair with Cardona parents often travelling with the team to see both Alex and her younger sister play.
By the time Cardona entered high school at City of Life Christian Academy, she was a decorated prep star at the outside hitter position. She made the school's varsity team in the eighth grade, lettering in all five seasons with the team. She was a four-time all-county selection and team MVP. She was also twice named the Osceola County Player of the Year.
Cardona, who graduated from a small Christian academy, admits her first few months in Boca served as a culture shock.
"My graduating class had 45 kids. At FAU a regular class was anywhere between 50 to 200 students," Cardona says.
As a freshman, she appeared in 25 sets over 16 matches in a backup role. She recorded a season-high five digs against Bethune-Cookman and tallied three digs against FIU.
Cardona considers her freshman year a learning experience. Being able to appear in matches, even if it wasn't in a starting role allowed her to gain invaluable insight about the player she wanted to be.
"Freshman year set the bar of what I needed to improve on to become a better player and teammate," Cardona says.
While visiting home that summer, she worked out every day, practicing drills to transform her game in all aspects. She believes her improvement on serve receive is what set her aside during her sophomore year.
During the 2017 season, Cardona returned to the Owls a different player. She quickly became a vocal leader for the team, always encouraging both younger and older teammates to strive for greatness in each match. She also became a more aggressive player and was well rewarded when she saw more consistent playing time.
"Going into the second year, I put the freshman mentality aside. There were no excuses this time around," Cardona reflects. "I knew I had to step my game up."
She appeared in 75 sets over 23 matches. She had nine digs in the Owls season-opener against Bethune-Cookman and a then career-high 16 digs against UAB. She also registered back-to-back double-digit dig matches against Rice and North Texas.
As Cardona, now an upperclassman entered the 2017 season she knew it was time to take the reigns and take control of the backcourt.
"I knew how to balance school and volleyball, and it was my chance to make my mark on the court," Cardona says.
Last season, Cardona truly cemented herself as a force to be reckoned with. She catapulted into a superstar for the Owls, solidifying the starting libero role, leading the team in digs. Her 424 digs were the fourth-highest single season total in FAU history. She had 24 double-digit dig matches including a career-high 29 digs against Rice. She also had 25 digs, four assists and three service aces against North Dakota State.
When asked how she plans on keeping last season's momentum, she modestly said she was flattered by the recognition, but she is far from her peak.
"It's an honor to be recognized with accomplishments. But it just foreshadows how hard I have to work in order to improve and beat last year's stats," Cardona says.
For those who know Cardona, it's no surprise that when I asked her what she wanted to accomplish during her final season, her answer emphasized helping her team win as opposed to receiving personal accolades.
"I want to help the team win conference. I want my other teammates to have similar goals and aspirations by my example," Cardona says. She sheepishly added, "It would be nice to win Conference Libero of the Year."
Looking back on her career with the Owls, Cardona describes the experience of playing the game she loves at a Division 1 level as the best four years of her life.
"I have grown so much from freshman year to now," Cardona says.
After graduating with a degree in exercise science, Cardona plans on attending grad school and hopes to land an opportunity playing volleyball overseas.