Alexa Bass was dressed in street clothes when she showed up roughly 15 minutes late for Argyle’s practice Monday afternoon. It was uncharacteristic for her to be late for anything, especially volleyball.
It was a horrible day, though. The Lady Eagles’ junior setter tried to smile, but all she could do was cry.
“What’s wrong?” sophomore Allison White said as she reached to give Bass a hug.
Bass whispered that she had just learned her father has prostate cancer, one of several health issues, deaths and injuries her family has endured over the last year. Through it all, Bass prided herself on keeping her emotions in check.
“There are times when I’m by myself that I cry it out and it’s OK, but this was the tipping point,” Bass said. “That’s the first time I’ve broken down [in front of my teammates]. I didn’t want to. I don’t want it to ever be about me when I’m with them. It’s about the team.”
Volleyball is an escape for Bass, an Oral Roberts commit whose versatile play has the Lady Eagles two wins from their first state title. Argyle (38-7) will face Liberty Hill (33-12) at 3 p.m. Friday in the Class 4A semifinals at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland.
“To compete at state with this team means the world to me,” said Bass, whose older sisters Mikayla and Katie are former state champions at Coppell. “This is what cheers me up the most.”
Kelly Bass, Alexa’s mother, said she shared the news about her husband, Mike, with her children because they have always handled things as a family. Alexa is the youngest of four children and perhaps the hardest-hit emotionally.
“I do worry about her, but as a mom it feels good to know my children lean on each other. They are all so close,” Kelly Bass said. “I want so badly for Alexa to live in the moment of volleyball. She loves the sport and her team so much, and not many kids have the chance to go to state. I don’t want that taken from her.”
It hasn’t been easy.
Battling for Bear
In January, Mikayla Bass — who won state titles in volleyball and soccer at Coppell and is affectionately known as “Bear” — was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disorder called myasthenia gravis. She is 20, and the rare disease has no known cure. For the Bass family, that has meant a world of changes.
Kelly Bass quit her job in July to care for Mikayla, who still has good days with the help of medication. On other days, fluctuating weakness in her muscles makes it difficult for her to walk, eat or brush her teeth without help.
The family has spearheaded several fundraising campaigns to raise $50,000 — the cost of a treatment in Russia that they believe will be a game changer for Mikayla’s quality of life. Alexa designed and sold bracelets at school and helped sell T-shirts at fundraising events.
“I’m extremely proud of Alexa,” Mikayla said. “A 16-year-old girl should have everything she wants in life, and it breaks my heart to see her going through all of this. I’m the older sibling, but she’s the one taking care of me.”
On Oct. 25, four days after a “Battle for Bear” fundraiser at Argyle, brother Nick Bass and his best friend, Kyle Tilley, were in a car accident when another driver struck the rear of Tilley’s car and forced it to overturn.
Nick was hospitalized with severe injuries. Tilley did not survive.
“Kyle was family,” Alexa said. “I remember being at home the morning of my dad’s birthday. I had the whole day planned for the family, but then there was a knock at the door and it was a state trooper. When I knew Kyle was gone, my heart sank.”
In recent weeks, sister Katie had her own health scare, and this past weekend — after the Lady Eagles beat Melissa in the 4A Region II final — Alexa was in a car crash and suffered minor injuries.
“She’s handled all of this better than most adults would,” Argyle coach Clark Oberle said. “Volleyball is her escape. She can come here and focus on a sport and team she loves.”
Despite everything that’s happened, Alexa — who moved from Coppell before her sophomore year — has been close to unstoppable in the playoffs.
She had 23 assists in a first-round win over Dallas Uplift Hampton Prep, then combined for 18 kills and eight aces in wins over Bonham and Aubrey. Last weekend, she racked up nine kills, 14 assists and four aces in a sweep of Van. Against Melissa, she had 15 kills and five aces, including on match point.
“We weren’t one-dimensional without her, but Alexa has made us well-rounded,” Oberle said of Bass, who was splitting time between indoor and beach volleyball. “She does just about everything right. We noticed that from the moment she got here.”
She’s so versatile that Oral Roberts recruited her as a right-side hitter. Senior Katy Keenan said Bass’ dedication and leadership have been keys to Argyle’s success.
“We’ve found out about things she’s gone through, but then she’s back the next day,” Keenan said. “She has a really good friend group that supports her and keeps her energy high.”
A bigger family
As Alexa sobbed at Monday’s practice, there wasn’t a single teammate who didn’t stop what they were doing to offer support. White was the first.
“I just told her sometimes things happen in life and we don’t understand why,” White said. “We have to trust in God that he will take care of us no matter what.”
At that moment, volleyball was just as much about family as it is a sport.
“They know I don’t like to be the center of attention, but I know they’re here for me just like I’m here for this team,” Alexa said. “I want us to have those state medals around our necks.”
STEVE GAMEL can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @NewspaperSteve.