Elevated 7,220 feet above sea level and hidden behind snow-covered mountain ranges, Laramie, Wyoming, is a small, upbeat college town with deep Western roots. It’s found in a part of the country where there’s more short-grass prairies than people — with a population of a little more than 31,000, Laramie is home to proud small-town Wyomingites.
It’s also where Florida Gators freshman setter Alexis Stucky calls home.
“It’s awesome,” the UF social and behavioral sciences freshman said. “It’s a really close community, and I think it’s really cool for me to come to Florida representing it.”
Standing tall at 6-foot-2 with curly red hair, Stucky has already become a familiar face for Florida volleyball fans. For others, the Stucky name is etched around the volleyball landscape of the Cowboy State.
Stucky made a name for herself at Laramie High School by earning 4A All-State honors four times, being named the 2020 Wyoming Gatorade Player of the Year and winning two Wyoming 4A state championships in 2020 and 2021, including some international experience representing USA Volleyball in the 2022 Women’s U21 Pan American Cup.
With only 135 high schools in the state, Stucky always competed against the best. Now, she competes in packed venues and against some of the most skilled programs college volleyball has to offer.
As her mother and former varsity high school coach Jill Stucky recalls, Alexis always welcomed the opportunity to compete on the biggest stage.
Jill spent 10 years as an assistant coach at the University of Kansas and coached at the University of Wyoming. She remembers taking 7-year-old Stucky along on a recruiting visit, where she said Stucky first caught her volleyball fever.
After 12 minutes of watching the older girls showcase their talents, her jaw dropped.
“Mom, when can I play?” Stucky asked her mother with astonished eyes.
Despite her mother introducing her to other sports, like softball and basketball, Stucky knew volleyball was the sport for her.
Volleyball brought Stucky to Gainesville, but she’s used to living in a college town.
Even though Stucky is far from her hometown that houses the University of Wyoming, she’s starting to understand the motions of her new home; however, Stucky acknowledges how the two cities are far from identical.
“There’s so many more people [in Gainesville],” Stucky said. “The town I lived in, Laramie, is a college town but nothing compared to this.”
Moving from a place where traffic would take five minutes at worst to a bustling, growing city comes with its own cultural shocks for Stucky, like most out-of-state students. Especially with the challenge of living 1,815 miles away from her family.
With three to four phone calls from her mother, and her family’s support and fulfillment on the volleyball court, Stucky said she has been adjusting pretty well.
“I’m really happy with how volleyball is going,” Stucky said. “When volleyball is going well, life is just going well.”
Instead of staying close to home and attending the University of Wyoming, Stucky chose to play for Florida after being recruited by Gators head coach Mary Wise. Stucky found it hard to say no to a coach with more than 30 years of experience with the Gators, she said.
“Who better to learn from than Mary Wise,” Stucky said. “Come on now.”
Gators volleyball, currently sitting at No.12 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association rankings, has found recent success with a squad of eight new faces: five freshmen and three transfers. Despite minimal collegiate experience on the roster, the Gators’ chemistry has attributed to an aggressive offensive mindset every match.
From her middle blockers Gabrielle Essix and Bre Kelley to her connection with outside hitter Merritt Beason, Stucky has found a circle of support in her teammates as well.
“I just love spending time with them, they’re great on and off the court,” Stucky said. “I feel like we have such good chemistry. It’s so fun to play with [them] and so easy to fit on this team.”
For the last few months, Stucky has found some balance in her transition from Laramie to Gainesville. The kind of balance that can only come from a tight family circle and a love for a genuine leather ball. Away from the mountains of Wyoming, Stucky is beginning to thrive in her new environment.
Brandon Hernandez is a student at the University of Florida studying journalism. He is a writer for The Alligator, Gator Country and for PlugTalkSports. You can find most of his work on his Twitter (BranH2001) and on his podcast, “The Courtside Podcast,” on Spotify.