MBA graduate Alex LaPorta learns to lead on the court
Growing up across the river in Highland, Illinois, there was little doubt Alex LaPorta would be an athlete.
Her father played football at William Jewell College, while her mother played basketball and softball at Rend Lake College. From an early age, she and her siblings followed in their footsteps.
“My parents definitely encouraged it from when we were little, probably to get us out of the house, get us doing something with all four of us running around bugging them,” she said. “But we all loved it. We all took a liking to different sports, but we just found our way with athletics and the community part of it.”
All four would go on to compete in college. The eldest, Olivia, played volleyball for Fordham University, while Bella, the youngest, plays volleyball for William Jewell. Younger brother Sam is a tight end on the University of Iowa football team.
Meanwhile, LaPorta became a star forward for the University of Missouri–St. Louis women’s basketball team, earning multiple All-GLVC honors; becoming the career leader in rebounding; and leading the team to its best record in program history this past season.
She’s turned in an equally impressive performance in the classroom as a Pierre Laclede Honors College and College of Business Administration student during her time at UMSL. This past weekend, she graduated with an MBA after previously earning a bachelor’s degree and an Honors College certificate.
A change of plans
Initially, LaPorta intended to play volleyball in college, but her plans changed when she wasn’t highly recruited. However, as a junior, she was part of the first Highland High School girls basketball team to qualify for state. The Bulldogs went on a run in the tournament and eventually placed third.
The experience positively impacted LaPorta and flipped her mindset. Heading into her senior season, she decided to pursue basketball at the collegiate level instead. After she changed course, UMSL’s coaching staff began reaching out to her immediately.
LaPorta was impressed with what she heard.
“I could just feel that they were serious with their intentions,” she said. “I’ve had the same coaches all five years that I was here, and they just told me what I could be, what I could become and what I could help the UMSL program become.”
Over the next five years, LaPorta would become an integral part of the team’s success, though there were ups and downs.
Learning to lead
As a freshman, LaPorta mostly served as a role player during the Tritons’ successful 2017-18 season but still managed to shine. She set a freshman rebounding record by snagging 236 boards and netted Great Lakes Valley Conference All-Freshman Team and Academic All-GLVC distinctions.
The next two seasons were what LaPorta characterized as a development period. A core group of freshmen joined the team when she was a sophomore, and together they helped the program grow. Individually, LaPorta continued to sharpen her skills on the court, racking up two second-team All-GLVC selections, but she also matured as a leader.
“I had to find that within myself,” she explained. “My coach always wanted me to be more of a vocal leader, so I kind of stepped into that role.”
While the team was continuing to improve, a cloud hung over the 2020-21 season.
Collegiate and professional athletic organizations continued to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and how to orchestrate safe live sporting events. Ultimately, it led to a shortened 20-game season with empty stands.
LaPorta’s trajectory continued to rise despite the circumstances. She scored her 1,000th career point in a win over William Jewel and earned first-team All-GLVC and honorable mention All-American honors.
“It was tough because, at that point, we didn’t know that the NCAA was going to be giving us that fifth year of eligibility, called our COVID year,” LaPorta said. “Myself and all the other seniors thought that our final year was going to be no fans, parents couldn’t come watch, everything shortened. In retrospect, it was great that we still got to play, but it just felt a little sad that our parents couldn’t watch.”
One more shot
After the NCAA announced it would grant a fifth year of eligibility, LaPorta said the seniors were able to play more freely knowing they would get one more shot.
They made it count.
This past season, LaPorta led the Tritons to a 23-6 record and a first-place finish in the GLVC Central Division. The regular-season performance secured an at-large berth as the No. 6 seed in the Midwest Region of the NCAA Division II Tournament, marking the team’s first tournament appearance since the 2013-14 season.
The Tritons fell in the first round to third-seeded Drury University, but LaPorta was thrilled to play a part in setting a school record for victories.
“This final year, we had the best season in program history, so it was like the perfect ending to my career,” LaPorta said. “It just all came together perfectly.”
It was the culmination of much dedication and sweat, but it’s not the only area where LaPorta put in hard work.
Student before athlete
Her family encouraged athletics, but always put an emphasis on education, as well.
“My parents have always instilled in me the importance of academics,” LaPorta said. “It’s a cliche, but it’s student before athlete. They never let me forget that along with my coaches. I definitely take pride in academics.”
It was a driving force behind LaPorta’s decision to join the Honors College when she came to UMSL. The small class sizes, discussion-focused courses and rigor appealed to her, and she enjoyed the unique experience. From the time she enrolled, business also interested her.
LaPorta liked the idea of one day being a part of the interconnected global market. In the College of Business Administration, she found a mentor in Assistant Teaching Professor Michael Costello, who specializes in business law and international business. She also had extremely rewarding experiences in Associate Teaching Professor Perry Drake’s marketing courses.
Student-athletes’ obligations and schedules can be demanding, but Head Women’s Basketball Coach Katie Vaughn and Assistant Women’s Basketball Coach Emily Samuelson wholeheartedly support the academic development of their players.
“I think athletes actually have an advantage in that regard because we have so many extra people that are on our side and help us stay the course in our programs,” LaPorta said. “My coaches, everyone in the athletic department, really just supports athletes to make sure that we’re all graduating and getting good grades.”
LaPorta is graduating from UMSL prepared for success in the business world, but she doesn’t plan on hanging up her sneakers just yet.
“I currently am working on going overseas to play professional basketball,” she said. “It’s a long process, but I’m working on it. I’ve signed with an agent, so that’s kind of the first step. He’ll get me, hopefully, some club looks, but I just have always wanted to travel and live in Europe for a few years while I’m young.”
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