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Karika’s scholastic volleyball play led to military career

Setting the Stage

SAN DIEGO — Alex Karika did not fashion herself as someone who would end up in the military, but volleyball helped sweeten the pot.

She was in the midst of her junior year at Seneca Valley and starring in both volleyball and basketball for the Raiders. A number of Division I and II volleyball programs had shown interest in her thanks to her excelling in high school as a setter, but she had yet to commit.

Seneca Valley's Alex Karika (18) celebrates with teammates after the Raiders claimed the WPIAL Class 3A girls volleyball championship in 2011. Karika excelled in both volleyball and basketball for the Raiders before starring in the former at the U.S. Naval Academy. She was recently inducted into the SV Sports Hall of Fame. Eagle File Photo

“I came home from school one day and my dad told me that the coach from Navy was trying to reach me,” Karika said. “I said, ‘Why are you even telling me this./

“Honestly, I wasn’t even sure what the Naval Academy was all about,” she added. “But my dad told me to keep an open mind.”

Karika and her parents traveled to Annapolis several times, toured the campus and she was soon swayed.

“I learned more about the opportunities and what it offered,” she said. “It was definitely something different and something I wasn’t used to, but I just felt like it was the place for me. The rest is history.”

Karika, a 2012 SV graduate, went on to earn Patriot League Freshman of the Year honors, started for two years for the Midshipmen and is still ranked in the program’s top 10 for assists in a single match (58), season (902) and for a career (1,798).

Her efforts at Navy followed a decorated career on both the volleyball and basketball court for SV and she was inducted into the district’s Sports Hall of Fame last Thursday.

Karika earned a degree in aerospace engineering and is still in active duty, rising to the rank of Lieutenant.

She spent the first 12 years of her life in Arlington, Texas, where she began to play volleyball in the third grade. By the time she and her family moved to Pennsylvania, she was already impressing coaches with her play.

“We were holding a volleyball camp for seventh, eighth and ninth graders in the spring of her seventh-grade year,” said former SV varsity coach Karen Martini. “I was watching her and thinking, ‘Who is that?’

“She was doing everything well and the skills she had were really developed for her age,” added Martini. “I called her over and asked what position she played and she said, ‘I play every position.’ That’s how they do it in Texas, they expose kids to every position so they can find the best place for them on the court.”

Karika would end up starting as a freshman for Martini.

“I definitely had some nerves about that, but I knew in my heart that I was capable and I would continue to learn and get better.”

She became a mainstay in SV’s starting lineup, earned All-State recognition three times and helped lead the Raiders to the WPIAL championship her senior year with a victory over Pine-Richland.

“We lost to them in the championship the previous year and that added motivation for us,” said Karika.

Basketball was not simply a secondary sport for Karika. She was a star there as well, earning Butler Eagle Girls Basketball Player of the Year honors in 2011-12. As a guard/forward, she averaged 18 points and nine rebounds per game that season.

“Basketball was actually the first sport I picked up as a kid and I loved playing it,” said Karika. “But I enjoyed volleyball a little more and saw more of a future in it for myself.”

Despite her accomplishments in high school, Karika said she was “humbled and surprised” by her induction into the SV Sports Hall of Fame.

As for her military life, she wouldn’t change a thing.

“I get to fly a helicopter as part of my job, have been to places like Guam and Japan and am living in San Diego,” she said. “I love it. I am very thankful that I went to the Naval Academy.”

Count Martini as one of many who is proud of what Karika has accomplished, on and off the court.

“I am so impressed with her, but not surprised,” she said. “She was such a special athlete and an even better human being.”

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