In one blink of an eye, so many high hopes and expectations disappeared for Sydel Curry.
It was the first day of preseason a year ago, the second practice of the day for the Elon University volleyball team. Curry, an incoming freshman setter, went down with a dislocated left knee cap and was forced to miss the entire season.
“It was horrible,” Curry said.
She sat on the sideline and watched as Elon went 16-17, falling in the first round of the Southern Conference Tournament to Georgia Southern University.
“Coming in, you’re so excited. You want to make an impact immediately,” Curry said. “Looking at it optimistically … I learned how to be a really good teammate. I could encourage and support without also having to worry about my game.”
A year later, Curry has it down to just wearing a brace on her knee during practice. She’ll stop wearing that soon, too. When Elon opens its season Aug. 29 against the University of Maryland, Curry will be ready to play.
“She’s been with us all spring and has had no setbacks,” Elon coach Mary Tendler said. “She’s at 100 percent.”
Curry, from Charlotte and Charlotte Christian High School, was a four-year starter and three-year captain in high school. She was a two-time North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association All-State selection and helped Charlotte Christian set a school record for wins. She played her club volleyball for Carolina Union.
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It’s been an adjustment coming back, but Curry embraced it. The now-redshirt-freshman didn’t have to have surgery, which helped her return to practice toward the end of last season. She’s been in action all spring and summer with no problems.
But there’s still work to do.
“I’m past the point of getting back to the basics of learning how to play,” Curry said. “It’s learning how to be smart with my play, knowing what to do, where to be.
“As a setter, you’re like the quarterback of the team, the point guard. I definitely need to know the strengths and weaknesses of my teammates to be able to let them succeed.”
In 2013, Elon used a two-setter system with Ana Nicksic and Cali Estes. While Estes is lost to graduation, Nicksic returns as a junior with two years of running system under her belt.
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Tendler emphasized early in practice that every spot was up for grabs, and there’s been a lot of competition at each position, including setter. Having Curry back makes the setter battle more competitive and offers a style of play unique to her.
“She gives us another option,” sophomore outside hitter Kayla Agae said. “Ana’s a fantastic setter, but having Sydel gives a different perspective. It gives us a different look as a team. When spring ball came, it was nice to have her there. She’s a different leader than Ana but they’re both leaders in their own way.”
It’s been a long time since Curry has played in a meaningful game, but she hasn’t been showing that.
“Sydel’s definitely stepping up,” sophomore middle blocker Ally Karle said. “It’s kind of like her first preseason. She’s hanging in really well, throwing up some awesome balls and running quick offenses.”
When she finally does step on the court for the first time in an Elon uniform, it’ll be a testament to her perseverance through one year of just watching. And she’ll be jittery with anticipation to say the least.
“Just me being able to play this year is awesome,” Curry said. “It’s really exciting for me.”