Top of Her Game

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Foundation Set by Her Father Has Led to
Alexis Markowski’s Stellar Freshman Season

Story by Shawn Ekwall

Alexis Markowski has never been one to shy away from hard work.

Countless hours in the gym are a staple of Markowski’s hoops journey. But her fast track to success during her freshman year at Nebraska has caught everyone’s attention.

To some, it’s been a surprising leap. There were skeptics. Could she contribute and play meaningful minutes at a Power Five school? The Lincoln Pius X grad originally committed to South Dakota State in 2019 before switching to NU. But to those who know her story, her quick rise is no shock.

Hoops success runs in the Markowski family. Markowski’s father, Andy, is no stranger to the big stage. The Ord High School product played for former NU men’s coach Danny Nee from 1995 through 1999 and was on the 1998 NCAA tournament team that featured current Los Angeles Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue.

He was a blue-collar player. Defend. Rebound. Set screens. The elder Markowski did the little things through hard work and perseverance.

Andy coached Alexis and her Nebraska Lasers club basketball team from fourth grade all the way through high school. He also served – and continues to serve – as an assistant coach at Lincoln Pius X High School.

So, did dad’s knowledge and passion for the game, as well as his intense practice regimen, rub off on Alexis and her Lasers teammates?

“Yeah, all the time,” Alexis said. “He really prepared me well to be successful at this level. He’s a pretty intense guy and wanted the best for all of us. He really pushed us to be our best.”

The 2021 Lasers class was littered with talent. Players like Grace Cave (Nebraska-Omaha), Molly Ramsey (Kansas State, volleyball) and current NU soccer players Haley Peterson and Briley Hill were part of the program. Nine Division I athletes, according to Andy, played with Alexis at one time or another.

“It was a great group. We were fortunate to play in the top bracket at every event,” Andy said. “Lex got the chance to play against the best posts out there. It helped elevate her confidence.”

Andy said watching the development of his daughter throughout the early years of playing with the Lasers is one of the things he remembers most.

“It was really fun to see Lex continue to develop,” Andy said. “She was one of the taller fourth-graders when we started compared to her peers. And over the years she really learned how to compete as her skills and size continued to grow.”

Admittedly, it took time for those skills to develop, according to Alexis.

“I started Lasers my fourth-grade year, and at first … I was really bad,” she said. “Honestly, my dad was like, ‘I don’t know if we’ll put her on the top team,’ and my mom (Jaime) was like, ‘You’re going to work with her and she’ll get better.’

“I didn’t really like basketball that much at that age, but as I kept doing it, and falling more in love with it, I realized I could be good at it.”

An injury derailed most of her freshman year of high school. A screw was inserted in her foot, and the recovery period was long. Once back full-time as a sophomore, the volleyball and hoops standout started to dominate, and recruiting interest picked up.

She averaged 21.5 points per game as a junior and 23.3 as a senior while leading Pius X to back-to-back Class A state titles in 2020 and 2021. She was named Nebraska’s 2021 Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior. And since arriving at NU, Markowski has hit the ground running.

She scored 20 points in her first career start, a 79-58 win over No. 8 Michigan on Jan. 4. Twelve days later she posted a career-high 27 points in a 93-83 loss at Iowa. She’s been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week seven times through mid-February.

She’s expanded her game, shooting 56% from the 3-point line while continuing to be a force on the low block. Her presence inside has opened up the perimeter for shooters like Jaz Shelley and Ashley Scoggins.

While her statistical numbers stand out, NU coach Amy Williams lauds Markowski’s fierce competitiveness.

“What I’ve seen out of Alexis and the one thing I know is that she’s a competitor,” Williams said after the Michigan win. “She just wants to compete.”

In a 50-38 win over Rutgers on Feb. 1, Markowski posted a career-high 15 rebounds to go along with 16 points. Williams pointed out the value of having Markowski down low in games where defense rules and shots aren’t falling.

“She’s incredibly valuable in a game like this,” Williams said. “In a game where there’s a lot of rebounds to be had, Lex did a great job coming away with them.”

Both Alexis and Andy agree the “fit” with Alexis choosing to play at Nebraska has been nothing short of terrific.

One of the key factors is being able to play in front of a legion of family and friends. It’s something Alexis doesn’t take for granted.

“That’s why I chose Nebraska,” she said following NU’s 76-61 win over Penn State on Feb. 3. “So I could have all my family and friends here. They’re all really supportive. I had family from South Dakota here today. They’re kind of coming from everywhere and I love it.”

Brookings, South Dakota, home of the Jackrabbits, is four hours from Lincoln. Andy said the thought of not having as many family and friends in attendance nightly was something Alexis weighed when opening up her recruitment.

“She kind of realized it would be hard to play in front of as many family and friends in Brookings,” Andy said. “She has a ton of friends here, from Pius X to her AAU teammates. It’s really important for her to reconnect with so many people after games. Even some she hasn’t seen in years.”

As for the culture and chemistry of the current Huskers? It’s a driving force behind the team’s success.

The roster includes players from Australia, California and West Virginia, for example. Markowski and fellow freshmen Allison Weidner from tiny Humphrey St. Francis and Whitney Brown from Grand Island Northwest are the three Nebraskans on the roster.

“We are all best friends on and off the court,” Alexis said. “I haven’t been on a team that hangs out this much outside the court. It’s not just the little groups here and there. We all hang out. We all love each other, we all want the best for each other and are always there for each other.”

Said Andy: “Winning and competitiveness are key attributes to kids on the team. This team puts winning first. Sometimes there’s different dynamics, where talent trumps character at some places. Not here. The culture of the staff and the locker room is a testament to coach Williams.”

And even though he’s coached his daughter since she was knee-high, some aspects of his daughter’s rapid ascent have surprised even him.

“I felt confident she could have an impact,” Andy said. “Alexis was so much bigger and stronger than most kids in high school. But there’s things she’s done that have surpassed my expectations. Her ability to score consistently against the best posts in the league, for example. Teams are starting to double her, which is surprising. I’d say that has accelerated faster than I thought as a coach and father.”

That acceleration has helped put NU (19-6, 8-6) in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018. The Huskers have won six of their last eight, capped by a huge 72-55 win over No. 5 Indiana on Feb. 14. They own an impressive 14-1 mark at home and have two wins over teams currently ranked in the top 10.

Markowski tied her career-high with 15 rebounds against the Hoosiers, while tallying a double-double with 10 points. She was one of five Huskers to reach double figures as Shelley and Sam Haiby led the way with 14 each. The Huskers used a 17-0 fourth-quarter run to blow open a tight game.

It’s that scoring balance and unselfish play that has Markowski pumped about the team’s ceiling heading down the stretch.

“I think we can be pretty successful in the postseason,” Alexis said. “We’ve beaten some top teams and if we keep working and believing in ourselves, we can go far.”

As far as dad’s outlook? Alexis said he’s happy not only for her personal success, but the overall success of the team.

“I know he’s really happy I’m having a successful year, but also because our team is successful, as well.”

And why wouldn’t he? Hard work leading to success is the Markowski way.

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Ted Kirk is a Lincoln-based photographer who has been a photojournalist since 1970. The Sioux Falls, South Dakota, native covered Nebraska Athletics from 1973 through 2018. During that span he covered thousands of Husker Athletic competitions around the United States. His work is being donated to the University of Nebraska Library Photo Archive.

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