The growth of most athletes can be measured in small but steady increments throughout their careers. Charting UC San Diego’s Nick Alexander’s progress both in and out of the pool might be difficult since both have risen so dramatically.

Alexander, a junior, spent his freshman and sophomore years as a specialty player, facilitating an offense rather than commanding it. As a freshman, he had two goals and 14 assists. The following year he recorded five goals and 15 assists.

“The past couple of years we had a couple of seniors that were the offense,” Alexander said. “I didn’t to play as much as I would have liked, but I totally understand.”

The pedigree was there and no one would have blamed Alexander for expecting to play more. He was one of the leading scorers on his high school team and led them to four league championships, being named all league as a junior and senior.

So it would have been easy for Alexander to brood about his diminished role in college, but instead he embraced it.

“I came in knowing I wasn’t going to be the all-star freshman,” Alexander said. “I wasn’t disappointed, I enjoyed it.”

This year Alexander has exploded offensively. He has 47 goals, second only to senior, Chase Cockerill and is No. 1 in assists with 62.

“I knew I had to step up and I did,” Alexander said. “I was learning more and more those first two years.”

His patience impressed UCSD Head Coach Denny Harper.

“We discovered him incredibly late in the recruiting process, as he was on no one else's radar,” Harper said. “Each season Nick made huge strides in his development, but he has made a meteoric rise during his junior year to become our conference tournament most valuable player.”

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Alexander was also instrumental in the play-in game to get to the Final Four of the NCAA Championships. The 6-1 driver scored two goals and had two assists in the team’s 12-7 victory over Princeton.

As talented as Alexander is in the pool, he may be more impressive outside of it.

UCSD does not provide its students scholarships and Alexander found that if he was going to go to college, he would be paying his own way. He used his love of art to fund his first two years of college.

It was high school where Alexander discovered art and he soon found he had a knack for it. His work attracted attention from his teachers.

“I took art in high school for four years and two teachers liked my stuff and started to mentor me,” Alexander said. “I was lucky they took an interest in me.”

Clay sculptures are his area of study and soon Alexander found he had buyers for his work.

“I sold a piece that helped me pay for my freshman year,” Alexander said. “If it hadn’t been for that I wouldn’t have been able to go to UCSD and probably would have had to go to a junior college for two years.”

“Nick Alexander is the epitome of a true student-athlete,” Harper said. “His achievements outside of the pool makes us all so proud. As an incredibly talented artist, there is no doubt in my mind that Nick will be unbelievably successful in all of his future endeavors."

Alexander has had to put his art on hold. He changed his major to communications and business and finds his art is done more on a part-time basis.

“I am working part time at the college as a liason to graduate students,” Alexander said. “I still enjoy doing sculptures, but have other priorities.”

One is water polo. Because of the loss of two top scorers from last year’s team, the squad played a more team-oriented offense and defense, where the ball was spread around to more players. The team struggled a bit and it didn’t look like UCSD would qualify for post-season play.

“We played Air Force and lost pretty bad,” Alexander said. “That was the turning point for us. We had a players only meeting and had a long discussion and it unified us. This reassured a lot of guys.”

Now that the season has ended, with a 17-4 loss to No. 1 UCLA in the semifinals, Alexander is still happy with the year.

“I definitely think this season was a success,” Alexander said. “Just to get the opportunity to play in the NCAA’s is incredible.”