Sept. 19, 2012
Through the end of the preseason, a newcomer to college volleyball had the top hitting percentage in the nation's toughest conference. That freshman is Washington's Lianna Sybeldon, hitting .481 through the start of Pac-12 play. The 6-1 middle blocker quickly earned a regular spot in the rotation with an impressive array of shots, spiking the ball with authority and mixing in nice offspeed touch when needed. A native of Folsom, Calif., Sybeldon is one of four true freshman to now see the court this season for the fifth-ranked Dawgs. She talked to GoHuskies.com before UW's Pac-12 opener, which the Huskies won, 3-1, over Washington State.
GoHuskies.com: Has anything surprised you in a good way or been harder than you thought with the adjustment to the college game?
Lianna Sybeldon: I think what was a little surprising was how much more mentally exhausting it was than physically exhausting. Physically, I felt prepared, aside from some adjustments that I had to make, but I wasn't physically tired. But there was just so much intense mental work that was going into it that I guess I wasn't really expecting. But I really like it.
GH: You've seen a lot of playing time early on, did you have any expectations coming in as far as getting on the court?
LS: Of course everyone hopes that they'll play, but I had no expectations. It's like if you go in with the lowest expectations, you're not going to be disappointed, so my parents and I were just thinking as a freshman I'd probably be sitting. So I've been super happy with the playing time, but I was definitely not expecting it.
GH: Your stats have been pretty impressive so far, have you surprised yourself at all?
LS: Happily surprised, I guess, but it's not like I'm some star player at this point. It's not like I'm putting up Krista's numbers. But I'm happy, for sure. I'm definitely getting more comfortable. The first match I was like (deep breath) just relax.
GH: What kinds of things have the coaches asked you to change?
LS: I would say there are few things they haven't asked me to change or adjust. Definitely the toughest transition though is blocking. I've never gone into such detail with every movement and the eyework, so that's what I'm struggling with the most.
GH: When did you first start playing volleyball?
LS: Seventh grade. When I was younger I used to play basketball, and I really liked that, but my mom's best friend, her name is Cynthia, she actually used to be a basketball player and coach so it was ironic that she would nudge us away from it. But she has a daughter who is two years older than me who was a volleyball player, so she was telling my mom that she had to get me into volleyball, it's great, I'll hopefully be good at it, so she's the one that encouraged us to do it. I started practicing with a club team when I was twelve, and I was so bad, it was so embarrassing. This team had been together for a few months and I had never played and I didn't even know the rules. I hated it and told my mom I didn't want to do it. But middle school tryouts for seventh grade were in the fall, and I tried out and made the team and started playing. Of course I thought I was good then, but I was twelve, I was terrible. But I liked it a lot and kept playing club so I've just been playing since then, and I quit playing basketball as soon as I started playing volleyball.
GH: When did playing in college first start seeming like a possibility?
LS: I always pictured myself playing in college, even when I was in elementary school playing basketball. I thought `oh I'm going to play college basketball.' Then when I started playing volleyball I just assumed that's what I would end up doing. I didn't know that it would be for Washington, but I had just always expected that from myself. I don't mean that to sound cocky, like `I always thought I'd be good!' (laughs) But that's just what I had always planned for myself.
GH: Was there a college you rooted for or looked up to when you started out?
LS: Not really, I was shockingly unconnected to collegiate athletics. Of course I loved Misty May and Kerri Walsh, but there was no `hail so and so'.
GH: How did the process go of getting in touch with Washington and making them the choice?
LS: At first they sent me just the basic letter freshman year. And at the time I was playing on a club team with (former UW All-American) Jessica Swarbrick's younger sister, Jacqueline, and I didn't know this at the time, but I guess her dad was the one that called Jim and said, `Hey, check out this kid.' So they saw me at a tournament in Spokane, and then sent me the letter. Then I went to their camp that summer after my freshman year. I really liked it; I mean how could you not? It had great facilities and great coaching. But it was the only college that I had ever seen, the first camp I had been to. I didn't really know anything about any schools. So people would ask me if I had to choose where would I go? And I would just say, `I guess Washington,' but I was still kind of unconnected. People would ask me `are you relieved now that you're committed?' But it was just never something that stressed me out. As I was getting older, my parents were saying I need to look at some schools and figure out what I want. My parents were just kind of trying to get me to check out some more schools like Oregon and San Diego and Colorado State. I appreciate that because had I not had something to compare this to, each time I visited somewhere else it made it easier, like Washington was definitely better. Eventually it just became this is where I want to go in my head and heart.
GH: And so far, so good?
LS: I'm happy with pretty much everything. The one thing I was concerned about when I was coming up was the weather, and that's been incredible so far, so I really have no complaints. The coaching staff is great, the team is so nice. I love the practices, they're great and efficient and I really feel that I'm getting better in them.
GH: If you had to choose between a big kill or a big block, which would you pick?
LS: You have more control of hitting, so that's more fun for me personally, but at this point since blocking is something I'm struggling with, I'd feel happier getting a good block because I would have overcome the struggle more so than hitting.
GH: You had a season-high for blocks at Portland with seven. Do you think you're improving?
LS: Yeah, definitely, but I know I still have a long way to go before I'm actually at Amanda Gil status.
GH: How have you adjusted to living away from home?
LS: It's been good, I was expecting to be a lot more homesick than I have been. And lately I've been a little more homesick because I'm actually physically sick, so that's like a trigger, but luckily my mom is up here right now to help me change dorms, so it's all better! But I'm pretty close to my parents, and I'm pretty sentimental, so I was expecting it to bother me more, oh I'm leaving my house, I'm leaving my room, but it's been fine really.
GH: Who have you been rooming with so far?
LS: Cassie (Strickland), she and I have been rooming together, but we're splitting up. I'm going to be living with a gymnast. She's super nice. At least we won't steal each other's clothes (laughs).
GH: What classes are you going to be taking this fall?
LS: I'm taking Russian Culture, and Scandinavian Film, and then some FIG (freshman interest group). They meet some requirements you need, but history is not my cup of tea.
GH: So what would you say your strong suits are?
LS: There are very few academically (laughs). I want to major in nutrition/public health, because I really do like learning about your body and how it deals with things. But I'm the same as my mom, we both do not like school. I'm a good student and I do my work but I just don't like it. Maybe I'll find some passion for it here.
GH: Coming out of high school, you were a well-regarded recruit, but not one of the very highest-rated girls on all the All-American teams. Did you pay much attention to that or did you feel overlooked?
LS: Actually, no, and that was something my dad would always talk about. He would read the blogs and message boards and see what they were saying. He would say people were saying I was kind of under the radar or people didn't really know who I was. But I just never really cared. The way I saw it was as long as the coaches know or the coaches thought I played well. So I never really cared what other people thought. The reason you get accolades like that are just other people's opinions. I believe in myself strongly, and I know I can do it, so I didn't really care if I got some award saying I got it.