The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

‘It was heartbreaking’: How volleyball’s lone senior found perspective from loss 

Sydney Heifner, ’24, learns to lead her team beyond her typical role on the volleyball court
Sydney Heifner, ’24. Photo courtesy of Generals Athletics

In late September, Sydney Heifner, ’24, woke up and knew something was wrong. After a visit to the volleyball team’s athletic trainer, the student health center and another doctor, Heifner found out her season would be shorter than expected. The lone senior on the team and captain had developed a stress fracture on her foot.

“It was heartbreaking,” Heifner said. “It was so incredibly difficult. I just – everything was going well.”

The team was 10-2 on the season before Heifner’s injury but then slid to a record of 2-4 over their next six matches. Heifner only appeared in one of those games.

Heifner’s impact on the team has been apparent since her freshman year when she was the only member of her class to come in and immediately play in several matches. In her sophomore season, she was Old Dominion Athletic Conference player of the year, leading her team to a conference championship.

Junior year, Heifner was once again first-team all-conference and received an American Volleyball Coaches Association all-American honorable mention. Heifner also owns the single-season program record for attack attempts.

“As a freshman, I think she was definitely… a little bit more performance-focused than she is now,” said head coach Bryan Snyder. “And that’s not to say she doesn’t care about her performance now, but I think she’s a little bit more gracious with herself.”

Heifner attributes that graciousness to her time away from volleyball because of her injury. But that perspective did not come immediately.

“It was constant tears and frustration and just devastation, honestly,” Heifner said. “And watching those next few games was really, really hard for me. Especially because the team did struggle.”

She started working her way back onto the court in a different position where she would not have to jump as much on Oct. 7 against Virginia Wesleyan University.

“I was limping on and off the court, I really couldn’t move very well at all,” Heifner said. “I was pretty miserable.”

Miserable physically, that is.

“But I had so much fun playing in that game. And that was the game where that love of volleyball came back,” Heifner said. “Ever since then, every single game I’ve played in, I’ve had an absolute blast. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, what position I’m in”

Fourteen of the 19 players on the team this year are either first-years or sophomores. Snyder said that Heifner has also found a new level to her role on the team.

“I think she’s realized that she’s pretty close to her best version of herself as a volleyball player,” Snyder said. “So the best way she can impact the team now is by helping everybody else improve. And she’s really done a good job with that.”

Snyder said that Heifner’s teammates have felt that impact. Each week, the team recognizes players for being positive teammates, and each week, Heifner is mentioned.

Heifner said she really values her relationship with Snyder. Snyder meets with all his players on a weekly basis, but his meetings with Heifner have started to look different.

“At the beginning of my career, I used to dread them. And my meetings were always like five minutes long,” Heifner said. “But the past couple of weeks, I’ve been in his office for almost an hour.”

Heifner said she is trying to soak up all the time she has left with the sport because she knows what it is like to lose it.

“I have a lot more grace for myself and for my teammates knowing what it was like to have it taken away for a short period of time,” Heifner said. “I would have just gone through my senior season and not really fully appreciated what I had before it was gone.”

The volleyball team traveled down to Atlanta this past weekend and beat Berea College 3-0 on Friday. They then fell to 11th ranked Berry College 0-3 but defeated Maryville College 3-0 on Saturday.

The team starts their conference tournament Tuesday, Nov. 7 at home against Roanoke College where Heifner will try to lead her team to a third championship during her time here.

“It’s been an awesome four years, and I’m so thankful for every single person that I’ve played with during my time here,” Heifner said. “We’re hoping to finish strong.”

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    Dennis ShumpNov 11, 2023 at 1:33 pm

    I really loved your article about Sydney Heifner. I just wanted to try and complete it on a positive note. This week the VB team was seeded fourth in the ODAC tournament. Sydney was able to come back and compete at a high level taking her place as an offensive threat. On their way to winning the championship, Sydney had three matches in which she recorded double digit kills and double digit digs. W+L beat the fifth seed, Roanoke; the first seed, Virginia Wesleyan and the second seed, Randolph Macon in the final. It was a total team effort and an amazing comeback for the senior team captain and my beautiful granddaughter.

    Dennis Shump