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October 02, 2013 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily, 2013-10-02

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Wednesday, October 2, 2013 - 7A

Lexi Erwin: How unique
became unstoppable

By RYAN KRASNOO
Daily Sports Writer
Lexi Erwin is quirky.
A senior and co-captain on the
Michigan volleyball team, she
spends most of her nights before
bed absorbed in thoughts about
what her life will be like in 10
years. Her imagination spirals into
fantasies about playing profes-
sionally in Europe or South Amer-
ica, or touring the United States as
an urban planner. Her biggest fear
is divorce, despite the fact that her
parents are still together and her
insistence that she's far removed
from marriage herself. She has her
heart set on traveling to Greece
because the main character in
"The Sisterhood of the Traveling
Pants" goes to Greece, and Erwin
hopes to go everywhere the movie
character went.
Erwin is a spaz. She says so her-
self. She's deathly afraid of public
speaking, and any attempt at sav-
ing face is belied by her flushed
cheeks. "It's not like the 'cute'
blush," she says. "It's like the 'I'm
a tomato.'"
Her favorite quote is "The peo-
ple who love to eat are always the
best people," by Julia Child, Amer-
ican chef and TV personality. In
fact, Erwin considers a hidden
talent of hers eating whatever her
parents put on her plate wjen she
was younger. She giggles, embar-
rassed. "I guess it's not really a tal-
ent," she says. "I'm not very cool."
Erwin is gritty. The summer
before her sophomore year of high
school, she was on a jet ski for the
first time. One of her friends sug-
gested they drive fast and Erwin
agreed. Shortly after picking up
speed, her legs flew out and she
fell off the back, hitting her head
on the corner of the jet ski and
breaking 11 bones in her face. She
received 150 stitches above her
eyebrow. Somehow, she wasn't
concussed, and, miraculously,
after colliding with the jet ski, she
impacted the water so hard that
the bones went back into place
and prevented her from requiring
plastic surgery.
Had Erwin's head been turned
a little more, doctors said, the jet
ski would have hit her spine and
she likely would not have sur-
vived. She tells this story candidly
and with a hint of excitement.
"I think it's a really cool thing,"
she says. When asked if she's
a badass, she doesn't hesitate.
"Yeah," she deadpans. "Just a lit-
tle."
Individually, Erwin's attributes
are as bizarre as they sound. They
are a hodgepodge of seemingly
random and unrelated traits, but
collectively, they shape the back-
ground of a bona fide star who's
been doing things her own way
since she first picked up a volley-
ball.
And her transformation from
an inconsistent, unproductive
sophomore back-row player to one
of the nation's most lethal offen-
sive weapons is one of the most

Senior outside hitter Lexi Erwin went from inconsistent back-row player to one of the nation's most lethal offensive weapons,

remarkable Michigan coach Mark
Rosen has ever seen. With one
final season in Ann Arbor, Erwin,
idiosyncrasies and all, aims to for-
ever etchher name into the annals
of Michiganvolleyball.
Spring, Texas is a town of
roughly 50,000 people located
30 minutes due north of down-
town Houston. The Erwins have
called Spring home for the past
16 years after Lexi's father, Blane,
uprooted his family from Boston.
Biane, who had been working gru-
eling hours for IBM, was raised
to be a family man and decided
to take a pay cut in order to spend
more time with his wife and three
daughters. A job opened in Texas,
and he jumped at the opportunity.
Lexi found volleyball at a young
age and quickly climbed the Texas
ranks. She made the second team
for her club when she was 12, and
as her dedication to the game
increased, she became a highly
touted high-school prospect.
Erwin - whose parents are both
6-foot-t- sprouted four inches
from 5-foot-9 to 6-foot-t between
her freshman and sophomore
years of high school.
When she was 15, Erwin
watched Stanford play for the first
time and had her heart set on play-
ing for the Cardinal. Her coach
told her she mightbe good enough
to play there and that she could
be recruited. A lightbulb went off,
and her desire to play at the colle-
giate level intensified.
Erwin ponders not having
played volleyball, where she might
have ended up without it.
"I'd probably be in a hick [col-
lege] town in Texas with my
entire high school," Erwin says,
laughing, attempting to cover her
mouth as her"tomato face" sets in.
"That sounds so bad. I needed vol-
leyball to get out of there.",

Michigan was not originally
on Erwin's college list because
she didn't want to attend a school
where it snowed. Then one day, she
received a personalized recruiting
letter from the Wolverines' staff
- a section of a puzzle that said,
"You're the missing piece" with
her name on it.
"I thought it was so cool, and no

expected. She enrolled in a "Reli-
gion, Politics and Power" class
her freshman year, and, coming
from a conservative and Christian
atmosphere back home in Texas,
she was shellshocked by the class
discussions.
"It was the first time I'd ever
heard of people really believing
in evolution or people believing in.

and often clashed with coaches
and other authority figures.
That spring, eager for a change,
Erwin approached Rosen and told
him she wanted to be one of the
best outside hitters in the country.
"We felt that Lexi had a really
high top end but was underdevel-
oped and overlooked," Rosen said.
"I don't think I've ever had a play-
er that has transformed herself as
much as she has."
The lights are bright at Cliff
Keen Arena, and Erwin is strug-
gling. No. 10 Michigan is hosting
Maryland in the Michigan Invi-
tational, and Erwin is out of sync.
The timing on her jumps is off,
her kill attempts ineffective. One
of her shots is blocked easily and
drops on Michigan's side for a Ter-
rapins point.
Erwin huddles with her team-
mates and is not upset. In fact,.
she's smiling,' almost laughing.
She shakes her head, brushing
off another missed opportunity.
Teammate and junior setter Lexi
Dannemiller gives Erwin a slight
nod, indicating she will be look-
ingto send the nextball in Erwin's
direction. Dannemiller does, and
Erwin fires an attempt cross-
court that knifes through two
Maryland players for a Michigan
point.
Erwin, a 2012 honorable men-
tion All-American and 2013 pre-
season All-Big Ten selection, is
immensely talented. Her poor
play that evening is uncharacter-
istic but fixable, something she
has been striving toward for near-
ly two years.
Erwin has been seei g Michi-
gan's sports psychologist, Greg
Harden, every other week since
her sophomore year. Harden sug-
gested Erwin write down all of the
characteristics of the person she
aspired tobe when she ultimately
left Michigan -'a great volleyball
player, but a better teammate,
friend, and person.
While her off-the-court goals
are in a constant state of improve-
ment, Harden has also helped
Erwin shake her frustration on
the court. Gone are the days of her
brash and rigid volleyball person-
ality. She plays with a rare loose-
ness and thrives in - and needs,
really - a relaxing, fun vibe.
Erwin and her teammates often
joke in the gym that playing vol-
leyball is akin to the childhood
game of keeping a balloon off the
floor.
"We're basically a bunch of
20-year-olds acting like we're 5
again," Erwin says.
When Erwin finally allowed
her play on the courtto mirror her
character off it, things clicked. She
drove that mentality to the tune of
a school-record 614 kills last sea-
son while pacing Michigan to its
first-ever Final Four appearance.

When the Wolverines entered
the KFC Yum! Center in Lou-
isville, Ky., last December, days
ahead of their Final Four match-
up with Texas, ESPN reporters
swarmed the players. There were
interviews and photo shoots -
publicity rarely granted to non-
revenue student athletes. The
venue, home to Louisville basket-
ball, seats 22,000 people, nearly 11
times the size of Cliff Keen Arena.
All of a sudden, Erwin was
thrust into the spotlight. One
thousand people showed up to
watch her practice. The attention
consumed her, and anxiety reared
its ugly head. Her same free
approach that had led Michigan
to that point, that had remained a
constant when seemingly nothing
else did that season, evaporated
into a stoic, robotic-like effort
which left Erwin uncomfortable
and out of rhythm.
The effects carried over from
practice to the beginning of the
Wolverines' match with the Long-
horns, as Texas took the first set
25-12. Erwin retreated to the
bench, with her familiar goofy
smile reappearing, seemingly
unfazed by the beating Texas had
just delivered in the biggest match
in Michigan volleyball history.
"We were laughing," Erwin
recalled. "We just got whooped,
so badly, Someone made the com-
ment that we made every single
mistake you can make in a vol-
leyball game so we might as well
grow a pair and just play."
Erwin thought of her conver-
sations with Harden and relaxed.
She settled in and nearly sparked
an upset over the eventual nation-
al champion Longhorns. Despite
falling to Texas 3-2 and ending
their magical run, the Wolver-
ines rebounded, led by Erwin's 26
kills on a school-record 87 attack
attempts. She responded, smile
and all, and in an oddly poetic way,
Erwin's performance reflected
her ascent from Rosen's doghouse
to All-Tournament accolades.
"She's one of my all-time suc-
cess stories in terms of someone
I'm really proud of," Rosen says.
Nine months have passed since
Michigan's appearance in the
Final Four, since the first time
Erwin has - by her own admis-
sion - really felt like a talented
volleyball player. She's learned to
handle pressure better than she
ever thought she could. The atten-
tion that comes with being great
no longer corners her. She used to
"black out" and not know what to
do. Now, she's the one teammates
turn to, and laugh with, in pivotal
moments.
After a recent practice, Erwin's
thoughts stray off again like they
do before bed. She rambles on,
seemingly to no one in particu-
lar, about the Kardashians and
one of their latest exploits. She
pauses,then chuckles, awkwardly.
In a way, her off-beat remark is a
sign she's enjoying herself. But in
a truer sense, it's simply Erwin
being Erwin, whoever she is.

JAMES COLLER/aily
Erwin grew up in Spring, Texas, and the move to Ann Arbor was an adjustment.

like that," Erwin said. "I had to
visit."
In January of her junior year
of high school, Erwin visited Ann
Arbor and fell in love. She initially
had her heart set on Long Beach
State, but Rosen had given Erwin
tickets to a Michigan hockey game
and she was sold. Erwin was not
No. 1 on Michigan's target list,
though, and it wasn't until anoth-
er recruit fell through that Erwin
was able to commit.
The transition from the south
to progressive Ann Arbor was
more drastic than Erwin had

ing their opinions," Erwin says.
"I remember calling my mom and
saying, 'They said this in class, I
can't believe it.'"
The leap from high school
to college athletics wasn't easy
either. Erwin started just two
matches during her freshman
season, and as a sophomore she
was in and out of the front row.
The coaches were concerned she
wasn't physically capable or con-
sistent enough to play at the net
in front of the Big Ten elite. She
struggled, additionally, through
a self-described rebellious phase

MRn CROSS COnNwRY
Runner Smoragiewicz can bike and swim too

By REBECCA DZOMBAK
For The Daily
For most people, making the
Michigan men's cross country
team would be enough to sate
their athletic desire. But for
sophomore runner and interna-
tionally ranked triathlete Tony
Smoragiewicz, running is only a
third of what's on his plate.
Smoragiewicz started com-
peting at an early age; he was
in the pool by the tender age of
8 and entering triathlons by 12.
His interest in swimming was
sparked by his father, who swam
in college for Maine.
Training through his teen-
age years landed Smoragiewicz
in Beijing in 2011, racing against
fellow up-and-coming triathletes
in the International Triathlon
Union Junior World Triathlon
Championships, where he took
the bronze. He followed that per-
formance, placing 34th in 2012,
and this September, by placing
42nd. The ITU Junior-level race

is a sprint-distance triathlon,
which comprises a 750-meter
swim, a 20-kilometer bike ride,
and a 5,000-meter run.
Smoragiewicz believes the
drop in his performance in tri-
athlons is due to a combination of
the increased demands of college
life - both running and academ-
ics - and the fact that the compe-
tition has gotten tougher.
"Last year was a hard transi-
tion, going into school - start-
ing at college, being away from
home, being in a new training
atmosphere," Smoragiewicz said.
"This year, I feel like my training
is going really well. I know I had
a really good fitness level and that
I was prepared for the race, it just
didn't go very well. So that was
frustrating, but it was good moti-
vation for cross country this fall."
Balancing running, cross-
training in two other sports and
academics is no easy task, but
Smoragiewicz thinks that he has
a better feel for how to handle
everything this year. It helps

that Michigan coach Alex Gibby
and the rest of his teammates are
supportive of his triathlon goals.
The other colleges recruiting
him wouldn't have allowed him
to compete in triathlons, which
was the main reason he chose
Michigan.
"Any time you're competing
at the highest level, in any dis-
cipline, that's to be respected,"
Gibby told MGoBlue.com on
Sept. 30. "He's had a hard go of it
because he really has his feet in
two different worlds. He's trying
to compete at a world-class level
in the triathlon in the summers
and develop as a national-class
distance runner through the
other nine months of the year. It's
a tough balancing act, but I think
it's one he's handled with consid-
erable maturity."
Smoragiewicz's training
focuses primarily on running
during the school year, which
makes sense, as he's an excellent
runner. His best race last year
was at the Big Ten meet, where

he placed 16th. He continues tc
swim and bike; his teammates
even venture into the water every
once in a while to work out witl
him.
Although triathlons have
grown to be highly competitive
and draw deep international
fields, the NCAA does not recog-
nize the triathlon as an official
sport. Instead, Smoragiewic2
occasionally trains with the Tri-
athlon Club on campus. He's OK
with this arrangement, since
running cross country and racing
triathlons - both at high levels of
competition - at the same time
would be exceedingly difficult.
Smoragiewicz's aspirations
don't end there.
"I'll probably do (an Ironman)
once I'm older," Smoragiewicz
said. "But for now I'm going tc
focus on transitioning to 'the
Olympic distance, since I'm mov-
ing out of the junior level. Later
though, an Ironman would be
fun. Grueling, but fun ... mainly
grueling."

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