Photo by Skip Rowland '83
Tribe forward Alexandra Masaquel ’17 is known for her voice. Well, actually rebounds, too. But she’s brought more than hustle from her hometown of Honolulu. According to women’s basketball head coach Ed Swanson, Masaquel’s voice is booming. On the court, she’s the first one to encourage her teammates. Off the court, she’s the first to greet you as you’re walking across campus.
Masaquel’s assistant coach Jeanette Wedo calls her the mayor of William & Mary, and her teammates ask her how it’s possible that she knows everyone on campus. Sit and talk with Masaquel on a Thursday afternoon in William & Mary Hall, and you’ll find that she does in fact know everyone, with kind words for each person that comes around the corner.
This is how Masaquel was raised, and she calls it the Aloha Spirit. In Hawaii, aloha is more than a greeting or farewell. It is a way of life. The deeper meaning of the word is “the joyful sharing of life energy in the present.” So when Masaquel says hi, she really means it.
“She’s a great ambassador for our women’s basketball program and for William & Mary,” says Swanson.
Masaquel was a little late finding the game of basketball. By the time she was five, it seemed she was doing everything but shooting hoops — baseball, soccer, swimming and tennis. Eventually she began to focus on softball. But Masaquel claims her father forced her to pick up basketball when she was 12. It was a totally different pace of game that she wasn’t sure she would like. “Basketball is so much quicker than softball,” Masaquel says. “But once I started playing, I found a new love for it. You have to think on the spot a lot more in basketball; it’s very exciting.”
As a high school athlete in Hawaii, Masaquel went on to earn to spots on three all-state teams in basketball and three all-state teams in softball during her high school career. She was recruited by the William & Mary coaches that preceded Swanson and his staff.
“When I came on my official visit, the atmosphere here was just so electric,” Masaquel says. “Everyone on the team was so friendly and genuine. That’s what I wanted in a college team and that’s what I found coming to William & Mary.”
After playing in just 12 games her freshman year, Masaquel had a breakout season during the Tribe’s 2014-15 campaign, appearing in 30 of 31 games (missing one due to injury), making 29 starts. She had 10 double-figure scoring performances, including a career-high 18 points in the team’s final game of the season in the first round of the Women’s Basketball Invitational against Xavier. Masaquel also had six double-digit rebounding performances and four double-doubles. In the Tribe’s 2015-16 season opener against Mt. Saint Mary’s, Masaquel picked up where she left off, scoring 14 points.
“Alex is all in, in terms of everything she does,” says Swanson. “She’s made tremendous improvements. You can challenge her and she rises. She’s also got great hands — she catches everything.”
A perimeter player at the high school level, Masaquel became more of an inside post player as a collegiate athlete. “She’s really blossomed into a great player in that area,” Swanson says. “She’s almost to the point where we can barely give her rest during games because she’s that valuable at that position.”
Outside of basketball, Masaquel serves as a President’s Aide, is involved in Tribe Fellowship as well as the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). SAAC is a group of student-athletes that provides a communication link to the Athletics administration, implements community service initiatives and promotes unity among student athletes.
Masaquel is also a lover of naps — “I can’t function without them!” — and food — “When I lived on campus, my favorite spot on campus was the cafeteria in Sadler.
“You ask anyone and they’ll say I’m the garbage disposal of the team. My mom grew up in the Philippines, so she appreciates the little things, food especially, because it’s an impoverished area. She was always telling me to finish my food.”
Being so far from home is not always easy for Masaquel. She misses friends and family, the local food and the weather. “In general, the hominess of being home,” says Masaquel. Her first year away was a big adjustment and she often found herself sitting alone in her dorm room, thinking about how all her friends were going home for Christmas break. “But this is a job and I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do,” Masaquel says. “And I love doing what I do.”
This includes the opportunity to play with people from all different walks of life and against people from all over the country, as well as traveling up and down the East Coast, which Masaquel had never seen until she came to the College.
From Hawaii, most of Masaquel’s family follows her season when games are streamed online. But her dad, who works for an airline company, receives travel benefits and flies to Williamsburg often.
“It means a great deal to have my Dad take the time to come see me play,” says Masaquel. “I have a great support system up here already, but to have immediate family there to witness me play in person is an amazingly comforting feeling. It’s the little things in life!”
This year, NCAA women’s basketball games are played in four 10-minute quarters instead of two 20-minute halves. The NCAA Women’s Basketball Rules Committee, which recommended the change, believes the four-quarter format will enhance the flow of the game. Masaquel says this has changed the way the team practices.
“I think the implementation of 10-minute quarters has made our practices more focused on quick and efficient segments of sprinting drills and scrimmaging in order to stimulate the new style of fast play that the 10-minute quarters intend to do for women’s basketball,” Masaquel says.
This could be a breakthrough year for the women’s basketball program. After struggling at the bottom of the Colonial Athletic Conference, the Tribe has climbed the ladder over the past few years under Swanson’s leadership. The program concluded the 2014-15 season with 15 wins, the most since the 2008-09 season and tied for fourth most in school history. The Tribe also held a lead at some point during all 31 games and five players set school records throughout the year. The team also landed the program’s first invite to the postseason, which Swanson hopes will give the team confidence for this year.
For Masaquel, that postseason game against Xavier was one of the most unforgettable of her W&M career. “It was memorable because of the accomplishment of getting to the postseason and the chance to go further in the tournament,” she says. “I had a pretty good game that day, too. I just felt unstoppable.”
But there’s always work to be done. Twelve of the Tribe’s 16 losses last season were decided by eight points or less, including their postseason game against Xavier, which they lost by one point.
“A lot of times we lost, not because the other team was better, but because we failed to execute either offensively or defensively down the stretch,” Swanson says. “Where I’m hoping Alex helps us is the toughness factor, especially mentally. Alex has a lot of experience in close games, so I’m really looking for her leadership in regards to getting over the hump in those types of games.”
Masaquel is using her voice to be a leader for her team and she’s out to prove to everyone that the Tribe is no longer the underdog. “I think we’ve developed as a program and really matured the past three years that we’ve had Coach Swanson,” says Masaquel. “It’s our time to shine.”