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GAMER: The world meets Odicci Alexander

South Boston News
Women's College World Series star Odicci Alexander in the circle for JMU, conferring with catcher Lauren Bernett. (JMU Sports Information) / June 09, 2021
The unranked James Madison University softball team entered the NCAA Women’s College World Series as the longest of long shots to win the national title, and indeed, the Dukes fell short of that goal with a loss Monday to bow out of the tournament.

Along the way, however, the JMU women and their incandescent star — Mecklenburg County’s Odicci Alexander — had an impact that may change the landscape of college softball forever.

Alexander — “2seas” on her social media accounts, “CiCi” or simply CC to family and friends, a familiar face in local sporting circles — was the clear breakout star of the NCAA championships, drawing adoring media coverage and the admiration of peers, from the players and coaches she competed against at the WCWS to professional athletes and Olympic softball team members who marveled at her energy and poise on and off the diamond.

Alexander and her JMU teammates all but stole the show at the NCAA Women’s College World Series this week. The Dukes’ phenomenal run ended with a 7-1 loss on Monday to no. 1 Oklahoma, the same powerhouse program that JMU had upset Thursday on opening day to shock the college sports world.

Though the entire JMU lineup performed well in the tourney, the five-day run of WCWS competition left no doubt that Alexander was the leader of this team. The redshirt senior was only back at James Madison as a result of COVID-19 wiping out the spring sports season 2020.

Alexander, who was on track to graduate in the fall of 2020, never doubted she would return to her team after an NCAA ruling granted senior athletes an additional year of eligibility due to the pandemic. At the time, she said one reason for returning was to win a College World Series.

For those who have followed Alexander throughout her career, they will remember a talented young girl playing Dixie Youth softball. It was with this organization that Alexander would eventually go on to win two Dixie Belles World Series championships with the Virginia Dixie Belles of South Hill. The squad won back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012.

Even when she was playing in the Dixie league, several of her own teammates — some who were older and considered the teams’ rightful stars — gave Alexander props for her uncanny knowledge of the game and her skill.

When Alexander was part of 2011 team that defeated Louisiana in the Dixie World Series in South Hill, her teammate Amanda Roberts raved about her fellow hurler, as Alexander and Roberts handled the pitching duties during the championship run. “Odicci is amazing. She can field, she can hit, she can pitch, she can do it all.”

Whether it was throwing over a thousand pitches during the WCWS, or the unbelievable play she made at home plate to spoil a bang-bang squeeze bunt and thwart a seventh-inning rally by no. 5 seed Oklahoma State, what people witnessed from Alexander was just an outgrowth of how she fashioned her game as she grew up in the sport.

Those same characteristics that manifested in the Dixie Youth league would carry over to Alexander’s middle and high school years at Park View.

In high school Alexander not only played a trio of sports, but excelled in each one. She was named to all-state, all-conference and all-district teams as a four-year member of the varsity softball team.

She played guard for the girls basketball team where she made all-conference. Her volleyball recognition included all-conference and all-district honors.

Alexander’s high school coach Dean Crutchfield said the JMU star has earned every bit of the accolades she has received and he’s happy for her. Not only because he coached her, but also because of her determination and dedication to simply get better.

“I’m obviously extremely proud of her,” Crutchfield said. “Her accomplishments, not only in her career, but to get her education and to get her degree while she’s there and to mature to the level that she has — I’m just extremely proud of her.”

Crutchfield said he hopes Alexander’s success will raise even more awareness of the sports programs at the county’s high schools. But even with that, he noted to get to the level Alexander has reached, you have to be dedicated as she was and have good teammates behind you.

Crutchfield noted that it was at a high school state softball tournament that Alexander first crossed the radar of college recruiters. The standout student-athlete didn’t even play with a travel ball team at the time — a fact that then-JMU softball coach Mickey Dean said made him glad JMU signed Alexander before her travel team experience start getting her noticed by other schools. She would play with the Lake Country Crushers travel ball team.

“Her high school softball is where she was recruited and seen,” Crutchfield said. “So, that in itself should be a motivation for the other players that want to pursue college ball, to take their high school career seriously.

“That’s where Odicci was actually seen — when we were playing in the semifinals up there at Liberty University. And Mickey Dean just happened to be in town. He happened to come to the game and the rest is history.”

Crutchfield added that not everyone who plays on a high school team has college aspirations. But all players should strive to perform to the best of their abilities to help those teammates who want that for themselves, he said.

“Whether all the kids in the high school program want it, it’s got to be more than the one who wants it, Crutchfield explained. “It takes all of them to get them there, so her teammates had as much to do with her getting there and the success.

“I would hope [Alexander’s experience] would build some interest in the program and all of the kids whether they want to pursue college or not. They need to help the ones that are.”

Getting back to the week of WCWS excitement in Oklahoma City: It’s no doubt that Alexander has had a whirlwind experience the past few weeks. But as usual she’s handled the attention with grace and humility.

The Colonial Athletic Association Pitcher of the Year, in practically every interview she has given, credited her success to the tremendous amount of stability she has received through her family support system. Raised by her grandparents Washington (WD) and Emily Alexander, the Palmer Springs girl with a Boydton, address says she remains forever thankful to them.

Though her grandparents couldn’t be with her in Oklahoma City, several of her aunts and uncles made the trip to the Midwest to support her. Her cousins, rising NBA star Keldon Johnson of the San Antonio Spurs — who attended Park View at the same time Alexander was a student there — and older brother Kaleb Johnson, with the Spurs’ G League team, ventured out to Oklahoma to show their love and support.

Now that her college days are coming to an end, it’s not hard to see Alexander continuing her playing career. Would a professional team be a possibility? Or maybe a place on a future Olympics team? (Team USA Softball has set its lineup for the Tokyo Olympics in August, although there’s always the possibility, albeit a remote one, that a roster spot could open up due to injury or other cause.) These are questions that will be answered one way or another with time.

When Alexander was pulled from the Oklahoma game on Monday — after she had given it her all, shouldering the pitching duties exclusively for the JMU Dukes in four games over five days, fighting to hold back tears as her team went down 7-1 to the Sooners — a mostly hometown crowd of OU and OSU fans gave Alexander a standing ovation. Emotions were running high with fans with even some reporters getting emotional. That’s the kind of respect Alexander had given and was now receiving.

When the game ended and ESPN did its post-game interview with Alexander, an interviewer asked what would she tell other girls — girls that look like her, that look up to her, who want to play and succeed as she has. Alexander replied, “You can do whatever you want, just be yourself.”

With that kind of thought process, Alexander is going to be just fine wherever she may land next.

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