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A Change Of Heart

The following feature origianlly appeared in the Oct. 25, 2008 edition of Army Football Gameday vs. Louisiana Tech.

Alex McGuire grew up with the military and basketball in her blood, but never wanted to attend West Point. However, the Army women’s basketball program could not be happier her change of heart has reaped great benefits over the past three years and counting. 

McGuire’s connection with the West Point starts years before her birth. Her father, Steve, and two of his brothers, Mike and Mark, are all West Point graduates. Their father, Ed, is a World War II veteran, his father served in World War I and the list of McGuires that have proudly served their country goes on.

“My family never pushed me to attend West Point, but just suggested that I keep the idea in the mix,” McGuire said.
 Not that she was averse to trying a military uniform on for size, but McGuire kept telling herself that she absolutely did not want to attend West Point. That all changed on her official visit on the banks of the Hudson during the weekend of Sept. 11, 2004.

“I had been to West Point several times in the past for football games and other functions, but something just hit me when I was here for my official visit,” McGuire recalled. “I played pick-up with the team, stayed in the barracks and observed the corps at the football game. They played Louisville in the season-opener and lost, but that didn’t matter. My mind was already made up.”

***

McGuire was born in on April Fools’ Day in 1987 at Fort Carson, Colo. After a three-year stay, the McGuire family moved east to Fort Meade, located just outside Washington, D.C., and Steve went to work for the Pentagon.

McGuire and her younger brother, Matthew, grew up in a household where sports were king. They delved into every activity imaginable, including flag football, t-ball, basketball and soccer. You name it, and Steve and his wife, Mellanie’s kids likely played it.

“I remember seeing pictures of me with my Dad at Fort Carson when I was three,” McGuire said. “I was following him around with a mini basketball. I guess you could say that basketball has been a big part of me since then.”

As a kid, McGuire dreamed of being an NFL commentator or a SportsCenter anchor, certainly nowhere close to attending a military academy. Steve grew up in Western New York, so his daughter grew up a rabid Buffalo Bills fan. However, she also spent a healthy dose of time at M&T Bank Stadium, but far removed from a fan capacity. McGuire became a five-time Punt, Pass and Kick champion for the Baltimore Ravens and moved on to the national level where she finished fourth in the country twice. The co-ed NFL Youth program has been around since 1961 and features more than four million kids in four different age groups each year.

While McGuire continued to flourish as a young athlete, she began playing AAU basketball at age 10. She spent time with the Maryland Waves and Maryland Hurricanes, cultivating her skills, getting noticed and playing against some of the top competition in the region. Her AAU career took the McGuires all over the country to national tournaments in Louisiana, Utah and even Disney World.

McGuire continued to shine during a standout career under head coach Lee Rogers at Arundel High School. After a trip to the state semifinals as a sophomore, McGuire led the Wildcats to a Maryland 4A State title as a junior. A three-time Arundel County “Player of the Year,” McGuire was honored with Baltimore Sun All-Metro “Player of the Year” plaudits following that championship run in 2004. She scored a school record 700 points that season and still has a strong hold on the Arundel career record with 2,086 points.

***

A hard-nosed, tough guard who plays with unmatched intensity, McGuire drew the attention of programs such as Wake Forest, Richmond and a few other mid-level ACC and Big East colleges. Another letter came in the mail from West Point, and McGuire tossed it aside.

“It took a lot of convincing, but I finally sat down one day to fill out the packet from West Point,” McGuire said. “My parents would have supported any decision that I made. I weighed a lot of options, but it took some pushing for me to even think about West Point.”

It took just one visit and a year later, McGuire arrived at West Point for BEAST Barracks in the summer of 2005. A rollercoaster of events followed and eventually culminated in the Black Knights’ first-ever Patriot League Championship and a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Just four weeks prior to the 2005-06 season, then-head coach Sherri Abbey-Nowatzki departed West Point, leaving a lot of question marks heading into preseason.

“I was a plebe so my classmates and I just rolled with the punches,” McGuire said. “We really didn’t know how a preseason should work or what to expect, so we just showed up every day and played basketball.”

The answer came in the form of a young, vibrant leader with no head coaching experience, but the drive of a veteran. Head coach Maggie Dixon stepped in and thus started an unthinkable chain of events for the Army women’s basketball program.

McGuire played a fairly new role on the 2005-06 championship team, shifting to point guard and starting 15 games into the season. Army’s second-leading scorer that year, McGuire was named the Patriot League Rookie of the Year. She went on to lead the team with 18 points in the Black Knights’ 69-68 upset of Holy Cross in the championship game at Christl Arena, earning all-tournament team honors along the way.

“You work hard and hope to have that kind of success, but it’s not something that you can expect,” McGuire said. “We had coach Dixon for just four weeks before the season got underway. I figured that there would be some growing pains, but we just started rolling. I think we had a little bit of luck and things just fell into place. I’ll never forget that season.”

Less than a month removed from cutting down the Christl Arena nets, the women’s basketball program was dealt a devastating blow when Dixon collapsed and died of a heart arrhythmia on April 6, 2006. Her assistant and long-time collegiate men’s basketball coach, Dave Magarity, stepped in as McGuire’s third head coach in a single year.

McGuire played through the adversity and has continued to make her mark on Army’s storied program. The combo guard, who can bank on an outstanding mid-range game and stingy defensive approach, became just the 14th Army player to score 1,000 points last season. She heads into 2008-09 as the program’s 10th all-time leading scorer with 1,056 points.

“No matter what telling numbers she has met, the one thing about Alex that I’ve always admired is her intense focus,” Magarity said. “She plays with a purpose, and everything that she does on the basketball floor is very well calculated. She is a tremendous student of the game having been around it her whole life. She has been a model of consistency throughout her career and continues to improve each year. A lot of what Alex has done isn’t accomplished in a gaudy way. She is very fundamentally sound player and truly understands the game.”

A two-time All-Patriot League player, including first team honors a year ago, McGuire has spent her entire career playing alongside some of the finest guards ever to wear the Black and Gold. This winter, it’s McGuire’s turn to become the focal point of Army’s backcourt and Magarity notes that opponents are well aware of that fact.

“One of the things that we are continuing to try to do with Alex is put her in a position to make her teammates better, because she is going to attract a lot of attention of a senior,” Magarity said. “We’ve lost four outstanding guards over the last three years, including names like Jen Hansen ’07, Erin Begonia ’07, Margaree King ’08 and Cara Enright ’08. Those are significant losses in terms of both talent and character. Alex will be tested to fill that void, but I have no doubt that she will approach that challenge with the same drive that she brings every day.”

McGuire has proven her worth in box scores on a regular basis, averaging 11.6 points per game in 91 career contests. She’s been Army’s leader in the steal column as well as one of the Patriot League’s top free throw shooters over the last three seasons. This year, however, she turns her attention to the role of captain, sharing the title with classmates Megan Ennenga, Megan Evans and Courtney Wright.

“I want to be more of a vocal leader on the court,” McGuire said. “I have a list of goals and expectations for this season posted on the wall in my room. It’s not much, but I want to get better every day, help the team in whatever role that I can and improve upon everything that I’ve done so far.”

With the season-opener less than a month away, McGuire stepped on the floor for the Black Knights’ first official practice last Friday, Oct. 17. She took one look around the gym and said, “I don’t regret my decision a single bit.”

Tracy Nelson is the Assistant Director of Athletic Communications at West Point.

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