By Michael Muldoon
People marvel over how Jackie Alois is such a talented defensive basketball center at a mere 5-foot-6.
Except there is something about that 5-6 she's listed as in the game program and team previews.
"I'm 5-4," she corrected. "I'll take the couple inches!"
Jackie, the third oldest of six athletic siblings (five girls and the youngest, a boy), will take the couple inches and anything else she wants. Alois, who just finished her junior year at Andover High, brings a rare toughness to the playing fields which has made her an award-winning three-sport standout.
The Alois (pronounced ah-loyce) clan prides itself on being tough.
"A lot has to do with competitiveness," said Jackie from the family's summer home on the Jersey shore. "Anything we do is a fight to see who can be the best. We have that extra fight."
That fight helped her hold some of the state's best to well under their averages this winter. That would include in the state tourney alone, 5-10 UNH recruit Elizabeth Belanger of Acton-Boxboro (12 points, 5-16 shooting), Central Catholic's 6-foot Super Teamer Casey McLaughlin (10 points), Braintree's powerful 6-1 Molly Reagan (10 points) and Holyoke's 6-1 Alison Littles (8 points).
Seventeenth-year basketball coach Jim Tildsley, who has guided Andover to five Division 1 state titles, including the last three straight, said, "She has the strongest hands of any player I've ever had. She's the hardest working, best conditioned athlete I've ever coached.
"She can cover all those big players because of all of the above plus her instincts, heart and determination."
She certainly is a unique player.
This spring she earned All-MVC honors in lacrosse after also being named All-MVC in basketball and soccer, and defense is her calling card in all three sports.
Alois took her sophomore year off to just play club soccer but was back with a bang last fall.
"It was weird going home and having nothing to do," explained Alois, whose younger sister Rebecca is her teammate in basketball and lacrosse. "It was unnatural. I was so used to going to practice."
Golden Warrior soccer coach Meghan Matson was thrilled to have her back in the fold.
"Jackie is a skilled and powerful defender," said Matson, who raved about Alois' skill heading the ball. "She's a game-changing player. ... She wins the ball out of the air every time. Jackie is a Division 1 college player just with her skill and athleticism."
But Alois, a National Honor Society student, has her sights set on Division 1 lacrosse. The family may have never even gotten into lacrosse but her sister, Alex, had a bad back so she made the switch from softball after her freshman year.
The former three-sport star is now a two-year starter at Division 1 Delaware.
John McVeigh has won 82 percent of his lacrosse games and sent a slew of Golden Warriors to Division 1 colleges in his eight years at Andover. He also has had a fine nine-year run as the Brooks boys basketball coach.
He said, "Jackie is as fierce a competitor as I've ever coached. She always wants to cover the other team's best player. She takes incredible pride in being a great defensive player."
He said her quickness and balance sets her apart.
Alois seems well on her way to playing Division 1. She played for New England in the recent Under Armour Underclassmen lacrosse game in Maryland.
With the proliferation of year-round AAU and club teams, there aren't many top three-sport athletes left.
Matson, a former captain and team MVP at BU, said, "Athletes like Jackie are so rare. It's sad that student-athletes have to make decisions. I'm proud of Jackie for not choosing."
McVeigh said, "It takes a special kind of kid not just to stay with all three sports but to sacrifice individual glory for her teams' success. Jackie is athletically gifted, works as hard as anyone I know and is totally selfless. It's quite a combination. ... Whoever lands her will be a very lucky coach and program."