The Desert Vista High School community last week mourned the death of senior volleyball player Alexandra DePriest, who passed away April 3 because of a medical condition.
The outpouring of support for the family of the 17-year-old Ahwatukee girl was a tribute to the teen and her short but fulfilling life.
Alexandra succumbed to complications caused by diabetes and the school faculty, her friends and teammates were shocked and devastated by her passing. But her memory remains alive, according to those who knew her best.
“She was full of life. Her laugh and smile lit up the room,” parent Dava Harbertson said. “Everyone knows her laugh.”
Alexandra’s time at Desert Vista defined what it means to be a student athlete. She stood out in the classroom and on the volleyball court, classmates and staffers said.
As an athlete, she served as a libero and defensive specialist for the girls team. She also displayed versatility, serving as a manager of the Desert Vista boys volleyball team as well.
She “was like a firefly. She had the brightest light,” a visibly shaken Susan Slavin, the school’s athletics administrative assistant, said.
The boys team paid homage to the teen Thursday, April 5, before its match against Gilbert Highland. The entire crowd and team wore pink, Alex’s favorite color.
On Wednesday, members of the Sunnyslope High School girls volleyball team extended a similar act of sympathy toward the Thunder girls team, giving each team member a red rose.
At the boys volleyball game April 5, many students made signs in Alexandra’s honor, and each pink shirt had her name written on it.
Opposing players from Highland were the first to deliver flowers to the empty seat on the Desert Vista bench that was dedicated to Alexandra. Roses were then placed next to her jersey, courtesy of her Thunder teammates. Desert Vista’s captain even set a bag of Fritos, her favorite snack, on that chair.
Alexandra’s parents, who were in the crowd, were then presented with a bouquet as tears flowed throughout the gym during the moving 10-minute celebration of life.
Assistant Principal Tommy Eubanks talked about the mood at school following her death, saying, “It’s devastating, as you can expect. We have been trying to assist students in their grieving processes in any way we can.”
To describe Thursday night’s scene as emotional would be an understatement, but there was an overwhelming sense of beauty in the ceremony that preceded the game.
Everyone in attendance said Alexandra’s warm spirit filled the gymnasium that night.
It was a spirit that Mark Byrne-Quinn, coach of the junior varsity volleyball team, knows well.
“Alex was able to light up the room and she had a great spirit,” he said. “We will miss everything about her; the smile, voice and presence.”
According to parents, Alexandra was gearing up to attend Arizona State University after graduation this spring to study nursing. Her bright future may have been cut short, but her past continues to shine.
“She had a voice you would recognize when she walked into a room or when you heard it in the gym or in the hallways at school. Even at a whisper, you would know, oh, there’s Alex!” Byrne-Quinn said.
Principal Christine Barela issued the following statement on Alex’s passing:
“It is with great sadness that I share with you that one of our beloved students, Alexandra DePriest, passed early this morning due to medical complications. We have been in touch with Alexandra’s family and let them know our Desert Vista community is here to support them.
“Alexandra was a member of the varsity volleyball team, Rho Kappa, manager of the boys volleyball team and an outstanding student. She was a beautiful, athletic and dynamic person that brought energy, joy and laughter to all. She deeply cared about others and was always there to lend a helping hand. She will be missed tremendously.”
The Thunder Board Association of Booster Clubs also issued a public expression of condolences, stating on Facebook:
“We were saddened to hear of the loss of a precious young girl who was so full of joy and brought much happiness to others. Her athleticism will be greatly missed by her Desert Vista volleyball teammates and coaches.
“May her friends, teachers and fellow students always remember Alex by her gregarious spirit and kindness to all she met.”
Immediately following Alex’s death, a GoFundMe campaign was created in her memory. The money was generated to contribute to the American Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation – something near and dear to her heart. More than half the $50,000 goal was collected in less than a week.
The Arizona Chapter of the JDRF is hold a walk at Sloan Park in Mesa at 7:30 a.m. April 28. Information: jdrf.org.
Thursday night’s volleyball game was simply another moment dedicated to a great friend and teammate. And while DePriest didn’t get as many moments as she deserved on Earth, it’s obvious she made every one of them count.