As a seventh-grade bench warmer on St. Michael’s Lutheran School’s volleyball team, Alayna Ryan had big dreams. When she attended the annual Bishop Verot-Fort Myers rivalry games she imagined herself on the court in the middle of it all.
What would it feel like to be announced in the starting lineup in front of a jam-packed gym? What would it feel like to play against the best players in Lee County? And, finally, what would it feel like to be the best player on the floor?
Fast forward to Ryan’s senior season at Fort Myers. The reigning The News-Press Player of the Year experienced all of that and even more.
The 5-foot-11 outside hitter has worked her way into the conversation as one of the best hitters to play at the prep level in Lee County alongside past Green Wave greats Brittany Brinson and Brittany Potanovic.
“It’s more than I could ever imagine,” Ryan said. “It’s very humbling. It’s very heartwarming, and it’s very exciting. Every day it’s something new.”
Ryan is coming off a junior season where she led Class 6A with 384 kills as Fort Myers reached the state semifinals before falling to eventual state champion Jensen Beach in three sets. She already ranks in the top five in 7A in kills this season where the Green Wave has won seven straight matches since dropping their first two against elite competition in Venice and Bishop Verot.
While Ryan’s biggest asset is her play at the net, Fort Myers coach Stephanie Martin said the Florida Gulf Coast University commit’s all-around game has come a long way since her sophomore season.
Her passing, defense and consistent serving have become an essential part of her team’s game. Although she is one of seven seniors, Martin said Ryan’s leadership carries a lot of weight.
“They look to her to get them out of tight situations,” Martin said. “They look for her leadership. They know what she is.”
Never was that more evident than a Sept. 6 non-district match with Riverdale. Even as Fort Myers dropped the second set to the Raiders, Martin could tell Ryan would keep her team in control.
She didn’t need to look into Ryan’s eyes to confirm it. Martin observed senior setter Erin Gear, who looked to Ryan’s direction with every pass.
“Erin is just amazing at chasing down balls and putting up a good set for me,” Ryan said. “Knowing that she had a lot of trust in me to put all of the balls over there really instilled my faith in her and the trust we have in each other, our bond. It was great to know my team had my back and they knew that I could do that.”
Ryan tallied 30 kills in the four-set win, breaking Potanovic’s school single-match record of 28 set in 2006 against Hollywood Hills. Before that the record owned by Louzia Ramos stood since 1990.
“It was just me trying to get the job done for my team, just trying to pick up some of the slack that might have been going on,” Ryan said. “We were kind of in a rough spot with our passing. I figured it’s my job to get us out of this.
“Every time I got the ball I said to myself that I have to put this away. I have to finish this point.”
Martin wasn’t surprised when Ryan asked her what the school record was following the match. A student of the game, Ryan is well aware of the great players who came before her.
“We’re full of tradition here,” Martin said. “For her, I think she really wants to be that. She wants to be a part of that later down the road. I think deep down that drives her.”
Maybe not as much as bringing home a state crown. Fort Myers will again have to go through teams like Naples, Barron Collier and eventually Charlotte to repeat as region champions. And, inevitably, Jensen Beach, owner of four titles, should be waiting.
“It’s my main goal to get back to that point,” Ryan said, “and then to break through that barrier.”