The Texas volleyball team heads to the NCAA Lexington Regional this Friday and Saturday, Dec. 9-10. To mark the achievements of the top-seeded Longhorns, we’re highlighting this TexasSports.com story on student-athlete Sydney Yogi.
As the living, breathing version of ‘Texas tough,’ it stands out among the rest — just as it’s supposed to.
When the libero was introduced to the college game in 2001, rules mandated that she wear a contrasting jersey to that of her teammates. Texas Volleyball head coach Jerritt Elliott took it a step further in 2004, assigning his liberos the vaunted black jersey.
“It’s become a real honor in our program to be able to wear that jersey,” said Elliott, who leads his Longhorns into their sixth-straight NCAA regional semifinal on Friday against Kentucky.
Sydney Yogi is just the fourth libero in UT history to wear black, and this season as a senior she’s growing into the embodiment of the jersey she wears. Yogi has started every match, and through her communication and leadership, demonstrated how to control the back row.
Yogi is also in control off the court. The Hawaii native is a two-time Academic All-Big 12 first team selection and has been named to the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll on three occasions. She is on pace to graduate in May with a psychology degree.
Behind the Longhorns’ front-row block, which planted 16 against Big Ten-tested Michigan State in the second round, the libero is UT’s last line of defense. Steady and sturdy are musts.
“It’s something that when I came to Texas, that’s what I wanted — I wanted to wear the black jersey,” Yogi said. “There’s a reputation that I think all liberos who come here want to live up to. There’s a different mentality when you walk out on the court, almost that you can be intimidating.”
Alyson Jennings, who sits second in UT history with 162 postseason digs, was the first to wear the jersey under Elliott. She became known as the “lady in black,” and then that distinction was passed on to Heather Kisner, who took the reputation a little too literally. Kisner was known to her teammates as “Bruiser,” because of her willingness to slide, dive and crash before letting a ball hit the floor.
Kisner, who graduated after the 2009 season, holds program career and season records for digs in the postseason.
“Playing under her for two years was the best thing. She showed me how to compete and just go out there and play hard,” Yogi said of Kisner. “I think the black jersey is really about competing and fighting hard.”
Yogi experienced last year’s momentous run to the university’s third-straight NCAA semifinals appearance mostly as an especially interested observer. A midseason injury pushed her to the bench and then demanded a focused offseason.
Motivated to get back on the court, Yogi was in the training room doing exercises, running in water and building up her strength all spring. An adjusted exercise routine allowed her to run with teammates during summer, an activity that produced a leaner, faster Yogi for 2011.
Yogi ranked ninth in the Big 12 with her 3.45 digs per set average, but UT’s size and physicality at the net often affects balls before Yogi has a chance to go for the dig. Her most appreciated value is anchoring the back line and helping to stabilize the Longhorns’ collective personality on the court.
And with Yogi there to take the short balls, it frees up outside hitters such as Sha’Dare McNeal to go out wide and be ready to hit, or allows middle blocker Rachael Adams to already be deeper in her approach for a quick tempo set.
“I’ve been very pleased with Sydney. You don’t realize, until you put (the black jersey) on, that’s there just a different magnitude of expectation of how you’re supposed to handle yourself,” Elliott said. “She’s been tremendous with her leadership and the way she’s controlled the back court.”
The NCAA Tournament offers a brighter stage, and bigger reward.
“Our defensive side has really come along these past couple matches, and that’s something that can win matches for us,” Yogi said. “Blocking and digging the ball, along with our hitting, is what will keep us moving through matches.”
Watch Texas Volleyball
No. 1 seed Texas (24-4, 15-1 Big 12) at the NCAA Lexington Regional
When: Friday, Dec. 9, 6 p.m. Central and Saturday, Dec. 10, 3:30 p.m. Central
Where: Lexington, Ky. (Memorial Coliseum)
Television: ESPN3.com (Friday and Saturday) and ESPNU (Saturday)
Live Stats: GameTracker on NCAA.com
Friday, Dec. 9
Match 1: No. 8 seed UCLA vs. No. 9 seed Penn State, 4 p.m.
Match 2: No. 1 seed Texas vs. Kentucky, 6 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 10
Match 3: Match 1 Winner vs. Match 2 Winner, 3:30 p.m.
This story originally appeared on TexasSports.com.