Volleyball is a game that involves constant shifts in momentum and
sudden changes of fortunes.
Unfortunately, life can sometimes be the same way.
Just ask Valencia senior Sydney Striff.
She’s had to experience significant peaks and valleys of emotion in the past year, mostly due to a serious injury last summer.
Maybe it’s thanks to the experience of dealing with the up-and-down nature of volleyball, but the 17-year-old Striff has taken it all in stride.
“I feel like that whole year didn’t happen,” Striff says. “I kind of zoned out like I wasn’t even there.”
It was July 2010 during a preseason volleyball tournament when she landed wrongly on her right ankle, tearing multiple ligaments and sidelining her for almost her entire junior season at Valencia.
“It is the single worst ankle injury I’ve ever seen, and she was completely out,” says Valencia head coach Ray Sanchez. “They thought she was going to need surgery and all that.”
Striff didn’t end up needing surgery, but in a sport that requires frequent jumping and ample mobility, her future as a player was in doubt.
“There’s almost like a depression that sets in when you get injured like that,” Sanchez says. “And she told her parents, ‘Maybe I don’t want do this anymore. Maybe I don’t want to play in college anymore. Maybe this is the end of my career.’”
Instead, Striff chose to endure the entire season from a place with which she’s not too familiar — the bench.
In six years of playing volleyball — including a season on varsity as a sophomore — she hadn’t spent much time as a spectator until that point.
“It’s just hard to sit there when you’re normally playing in the game,” says junior teammate Serena LeDuff. “It’s just hard not to be out there.”
Striff continued to show up to nearly every Valencia match whether it was out of town or not.
For most of the season, she had a difficult time even walking around, much less getting the chance to play. It wasn’t exactly how she pictured her junior year.
“I knew I was part of the team, but going to the games every day was really hard knowing that it isn’t going to matter,” Striff says.
Eventually, the anticipation became too much to handle, and Striff played anyway. Contrary to the doctor’s recommendations, she entered a match at Golden Valley on Nov. 2, 2010.
A week later, she got her first chance to play at home in Valencia’s CIF-Southern Section Division IA first-round match against Estancia.
Both times, Striff rotated in as server only because she was still unable to jump.
That didn’t stop fans and players from giving her a resounding reception.
“Just seeing her back on the court, I think it helped all of us, knowing that we’d have her back for next year and everything was going to be OK,” LeDuff says.
It wasn’t until January that Striff was able to play at full capacity, long after high school season had ended.
She immediately dove into club play for her 17-year-old team at Legacy Volleyball Club.
In July, she took part in the club’s championship performance at the prestigious Volleyball Festival in Phoenix.
It came almost exactly a year after she first went down with the injury.
“It was a crazy low to an extreme high,” Striff says, “and to end our club season winning the Festival, it was insane.”
Even now, she has to ice down her ankle after most matches to keep it from swelling, but a little pain isn’t preventing her from being one of Valencia’s most valuable assets in the front row.
Though Striff has played outside hitter or opposite throughout her career, Sanchez asked her if she’d be willing to move to middle blocker this season.
Given her dynamic skill set and 5-foot 11-inch frame, moving Striff to middle gave the team more variety from an offensive standpoint and more height at the net.
“It’s very different,” Striff says. “At first it was really frustrating, just because I was used to being successful as an opposite. But now knowing it’s not that much different, it’s just a little bit of an adjustment.”
Her new role may mean less kills, less glory and more difficulty in learning the nuances.
After what she’s gone through, however, it’s merely a speed bump.
“She’s intense,” Sanchez says. “If you watch her play, she’s intense, but she’s got a good head on her shoulders. She’s got a really good outlook on volleyball and life and all of that.”
As for her future in the sport, she’s already committed to play at Westmont College next year.
It looks like the momentum is shifting back in her favor.