After a semester apart, cousins Alex Neff ’20 and Allison Kuenle ’20 are on the same team once again, leading the charge for a Tiger volleyball program on the rise.
By Ryan Mueksch
Call it destiny.
Identical twins Pamela Neff and Tamera Kuenle grew up wearing the same outfits, participating in the same activities, essentially staying attached at the hip.
Even after high school and college, Pam and Tam moved from city to city together and have lived most of their lives within ten miles of each other.
So the fact that they each gave birth to a girl, exactly one month apart, made it likely from the start that those two girls would be lifelong friends.
“All four of us are very sarcastic,” Tamera says. “There’s always something to laugh about. Our senses of humor are very alike.”
“Our moms are very, very close,” says Alex, Pamela’s daughter. “They still have the same haircut, wear similar outfits, have the same hobbies. I don’t think there has ever been a day when they didn’t communicate to each other.”
And Alex Neff ’20 and Allison Kuenle ’20 have been inseparable, just like their mothers.
“I can’t remember ever doing anything by myself. We were always together,” Alex says. “Same sports, same schools. Since our moms were always together, we were always together.”
But after graduating from North Platte High School in the spring of 2016, Alex signed with Doane to play volleyball, and Allison went to play at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
“We didn’t see each other for around three months, and that was really hard,” Alex says. “We were still texting, calling, or snapchatting every day though.”
While Alex was in the midst of a record-setting season at Doane, Allison was having second thoughts about attending UNK.
“My passion for volleyball was different,” she says. “I wasn’t the same player that I was in high school. Something just didn’t feel right.”
UNK and Doane each capped off a successful season, but the individual results for the two girls were quite different.
Alex was named GPAC Freshman of the Year, leading the Tigers in assists/set and service aces, playing a large role in Doane’s run to a 9th-place finish at the NAIA National Tournament, the best finish in school history.
Allison, meanwhile, experienced limited playing time and decided it would be best for her to transfer.
“Once my release was granted, I texted Alex immediately,” she says.
Although she wanted Allison to make the best decision for herself, Alex knew how special it could be if she were reunited with her best friend and former teammate.
“I didn’t have to make much of a sales pitch for Allison to attend Doane. I’m not going to lie though,” Alex says with a smile. “I really didn’t want her to go to a different GPAC school. It would’ve been a fight between our families.”
After visiting campus and sitting down with head coach Gwen Egbert, the decision was a no-brainer. Allison would be spending her final three years of school at Doane.
“Seeing the success Alex had definitely played into my decision,” Allison says. “I knew there was something special going on there, and I wanted to be a part of it.”
Turning a volleyball program around and being part of something special is nothing new for Alex and Allison. The two played varsity all four years of high school at North Platte, a feat that doesn’t happen often.
Their freshman season, North Platte finished 19-12, an impressive record considering the Bulldogs’ lack of recent success. But that wasn’t good enough for Alex and Allison.
“I don’t want to say we were used to winning on our club team, but we did win a lot,” Alex says.” “It was unheard of for this small club team from western Nebraska (Nebraska Xpress) to have all this success, reaching qualifiers in Denver and Kansas City. So for us to go from that, to not even making state our freshman year, we weren’t happy with it.”
Behind Alex, Allison, and Olivia Nicholson (now playing at Colorado State), the Bulldogs became a serious threat in Class A. Their senior season, North Platte reached the state championship match for the first time in 35 years, eventually falling to Omaha Marian in straight sets.
“No one really ever expected us to do anything, and I think that was a huge motivating factor for us,” Alex says.
Alex and Allison say they will continue to use that mentality to strive for new heights at Doane.
“It was an amazing experience to be a part of last season,” Alex says. “To go from not making nationals to finishing in the top 10. I can’t wait to push our limits even further.”
Adds Allison: “We’ve always had the mindset that we don’t care how good the opposing team is, we’re going to do everything we can to compete as well as we can.”
Although the two girls played on different teams last season, it didn’t take long for them to get back in rhythm as teammates.
Alex, a setter, estimates she has set more than 100,000 times to Allison, an outside hitter, throughout their volleyball careers. After 10 years of practices and games, the two have a connection that is extremely valuable to the team.
“We are always on the same wavelength,” Allison says.
“I know her timing the best,” Alex adds. “I can see when she takes a first step and where I need to put the ball because I’ve played with her for so long. It’s almost just second nature at this point.”
While the two are extremely close, they don’t let that relationship take away from bonding with the rest of the team.
“We have such a good group of girls to play with,” Allison says. “One of our themes for the season is to have a tight circle after every play. That helps remind us that we’re together as a unit; it’s not just the two of us.”
Egbert has coached a number of talented players, including twins Amber and Kadie Rolfzen at Papillion La-Vista South High School. The two went on to win a national championship at Nebraska. Egbert says she had to take initiative to make sure Amber and Kadie were inclusive with the rest of their team, but that’s not something she has to worry about with Alex and Allison.
“I think they mix in really well with the team,” Egbert says. “They’re good teammates, they love volleyball, and they’re two people that are really committed to our program. Those are commonalities that are strong together.”
Considering how close they are, it should be no surprise that Allison and Alex also live together.
Asked if they can see themselves taking a similar path to their mothers, Alex laughs and says, “Absolutely. I would almost count on it.”
Another thing you can count on?
Alex and Allison doing everything they can to take Doane volleyball to unprecedented heights.