Hard to say what might be greater — the distance William & Mary junior forward Alexandra Masaquel, a Honolulu native, has traveled just to get to school, or that which she has covered as a player in the course of her college career.
“Both are impressive,” Tribe coach Ed Swanson said.
Masaquel has her own feelings on the topic.
“I definitely think the progress I’ve made as a player has been a lot bigger,” she said.
A bench-warmer her freshman season in Williamsburg, she is averaging 11.6 points and a team-leading 8.1 rebounds for the Tribe (11-3), which visits Northeastern on Friday and Hofstra on Sunday. The latter game will air on ASN.
If the game once seemed too fast for her, she is now up to speed. If she once struggled with the day-to-day grind, she now plows right ahead.
“It’s been amazing,” she said. “It’s incredible to see how powerful your mind can be, because coming in, I didn’t know what was coming at me with all the running, with all the workouts.”
Back in Hawaii, practices tended to be “really chill,” as she put it.
“Here, everything you do is for a purpose,” she said. “Everything you do is to get better for the next game, for the next year. You’re always competing with your teammates.”
It has changed her as a player, without question. The 5-10 Masaquel went from averaging 1.6 points in 12 games as freshman to 7.8 points and 6.4 rebounds as a sophomore starter. And now, Swanson said, “She’s one of the few players, maybe the only player, where our play, both offensively and especially defensively, goes down when she’s out of the game.”
The entire experience has changed her as a person, too.
“It’s humbled me, in a way,” she said. “It’s taught me to work harder and persevere through the hard times, to reap the rewards of all the work that you put in with your teammates.”
Coming out of high school she expected to play her college ball on the West Coast, as many of her teammates did. But William & Mary’s previous coach, Debbie Taylor, offered her a scholarship, and Masaquel accepted it, even though Taylor was fired after the 2012-13 season.
And Masaquel did so before Swanson was hired in May 2013, after 23 years at Sacred Heart.
“That doesn’t really happen all that often,” he said.
Masaquel had visited William & Mary in the meantime, and liked what she found — especially, she said, “this kind of electric vibe that I like.”
She was, as a result, comfortable with her decision.
“Even though I knew that there was a new coach coming into play, I thought, ‘What could be the worst that could happen?’” she said. “Plus I wanted the chance to prove something to the program, prove something to myself and show everyone I can play with the big dogs.”
There were adjustments to be made, certainly. There’s the 14-hour trip from home, just for starters. Also the weather, and the mainland’s language quirks. Where she’s from, sweatshirts are called jackets, and flip flops are known as slippers. But things fell into place. She’s a people person, infused with her native state’s “aloha spirit,” as she put it, and before long Swanson was calling her “the mayor of William & Mary.”
“People where I live are very hospitable,” she said. “Everyone’s very open-armed. That’s how I grew up, and that’s how I came into William & Mary.”
Her on-court transition was another matter. She had played the post in high school, but Swanson, uncertain if she was big enough to do that for the Tribe, tried her on the wing at first.
That didn’t work out, so it was back to the paint as power forward. She spent the 2013-14 season, as well as the following off-season, making the adjustment, and emerged as a regular last winter. Her final game — an 18-point outing in a loss to Xavier in the first round of the Women’s Basketball Invitational — was her best, and she has built on that this season.
Great as Masaquel’s progress has been, Swanson believes she has more to offer. He recalled telling her a few weeks ago that it was time to step up and “become that star that we need here.”
“That’s not a comfortable role for her,” he said. “If you ask her, she’ll see herself more as a blender — you know, ‘I tie everything together’ — which she does, but in order for our program to excel, we need her to do more. And she’s capable of doing that.”
Certainly she has shown a willingness to go the extra mile. Why would that change now?