SPRING HILL — When Alyssa Mathis steps into the gym — not to mention onto the volleyball court — she is generally the center of attention.
And that's not exclusive to people who can actually see her.
"We were at a tournament in Orlando her sophomore year," recalled Douglas Chinchar, Mathis' coach at Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School and for her club team. "And you hear 'BOOM … BOOM' as she's warming up. A (college) coach comes up to me and says, 'I don't know who that is, or what that is, but I'm going over there right now.' "
Now Mathis looks to make noise on an international stage. Next week, the rising Hurricane senior will play in a major all-star tournament in Croatia. Mathis is part of the Bring it USA Southeast all-star team, comprised mostly of players from Florida.
Academy of the Holy Names standout Courtney Vogler is the only other bay area player joining Mathis on the squad, which left for Europe on Tuesday.
Not bad for someone who didn't take up the sport until the seventh grade.
"When I found out I was picked, honestly I was so surprised," Mathis said. "I get so many e-mails asking me to play for this and that club team, I thought it was junk mail."
It's a good thing she looked into it. Thanks to some "really generous" neighbors, she was able to raise money to cover the travel cost and other expenses.
Bring It USA has been organizing talented tournament squads since 1997, with a large focus on giving players a chance to play overseas. The 10th European Global Challenge will feature teams from seven European countries along with a dozen from the United States.
It's perfect for Mathis, who dreams of playing overseas one day.
"I'm not nervous about going to Europe; I'm nervous about playing against girls from Europe. You watch the Olympics and everyone just looks so huge," said Mathis, who is no slouch herself at 5 feet 11.
Chinchar is almost as excited as Mathis.
"She'll be a different kid when she comes back," he said. "She'll be 10 times better because she's playing, basically, with all Division I (signed) kids. But Alyssa can hold her own. When some kids get to Division I, they'll get pushed around. She'll put a hurting on some people."
Mathis, who has that special ability to hit the ball straight down — creating that whole "BOOM" effect — has orally committed to San Diego State University. But by no means is she coasting until college comes around, aware that "you can always have your scholarship taken away from you."
Other than spending most of her day working on volleyball or her physical conditioning, Mathis studies the finer points of the sport.
"Being a better player doesn't always mean just working hard on your game. I like to watch other good players, what they do well," she said.
She's been perfecting "leaning" into the ball, giving her even more of a powerful kill stroke. She wants to be a player who knows where the ball is going before it gets there.
After three days of training in Prague, Czech Republic, Mathis' team heads to Slovenia for a warmup match (and, of course, sightseeing) before the tournament in Pula, Croatia. The team is coached by CJ Sherman, whose Jacksonville Juniors club team has three players on the roster; there are also Bring It USA players from Illinois and Colorado .
"This is a big-time tournament," Chinchar said. "I didn't realize how big it was until I started asking around. This isn't like some soccer friendly game; this is a major competition. It's great exposure for Alyssa."
Bring It USA starts tourney play Monday with matches against teams from Italy, host Pula, Hungary and Slovenia.