Doby overcomes adversity, injuries in journey to starting job

GVL/Emily Frye - Sydney Doby (2014)

GVL/Emily Frye – Sydney Doby (2014)

Brady McAtamney

As Sydney Doby walked through the doors to meet her new club volleyball team, she felt nervous.

She had never played volleyball at a high level before, and this team was known for being one of the best.

Among her new teammates was Katie Olson, a potential Division I talent, as well as other girls whose sights were set on winning championships and moving into Division I college volleyball.

“We’re all like ‘who’s this girl?” Olson said. “For her to come to that team and make that team was very impressive for all of us knowing that she had never played volleyball (at that level) before.”

Doby, a junior middle blocker listed at 6’2″, was recruited out of Algonquin, Illinois by Grand Valley State coach Deanne Scanlon after she had heavily recruited Olson. Both Doby and Olson played on the same club team before GVSU.

“We saw someone that had a lot of potential,” Scanlon said. “We saw that when we were recruiting Katie that they just had this innate connection on the floor, it’s hard to manufacture that. They just knew where the other one was, like a quarterback and a wide receiver kind of a thing. They just had a great connection. We got to know her a little bit and saw that she was a quality person with a good work ethic and knew she could be a leader in our program someday.”

As a true freshman in 2014, Doby ranked in the top 15 in the GLIAC in solo blocks and finished third on the Lakers in solo blocks, block assists, and total blocks.

After her first year in Laker blue, expectations were high for Doby moving into her sophomore season. Things got off to a rocky start, though, as she had to undergo her second left knee surgery and missed the beginning of the season.

Added into the challenge of making a full, healthy recovery for Doby was the thought in the back of her mind telling her that there were other players that would be playing in her spot who could take her starting job from her.

“I didn’t necessarily own my spot like other girls. I had the challenge of the knee surgery on top of that, it was hard,” Doby said.

Once she had fully recovered from her knee injury, Doby suffered a concussion which took her out of action once again for a chunk of the conference season. The concussion was especially hard for her since she could only have limited participation in practice.

“Once I started being able to come back to practices after the concussion, it was really just about me being a teammate to them because I knew I wasn’t up to play at that point,” Doby said.

Since she knew her role on the team for the remainder of the season was not likely to be spent on the hardwood, Doby developed relationships with her teammates – something she had not done often in the past.

“That wasn’t something I was used to being – a bench player – but I’m actually really glad that I went through it because I got to see a part of the team I wasn’t used to seeing and I got a feel for something new,” Doby said. “That was my role on the team, and now I have a much better perspective and now I’m able to be a better teammate. I’m not going to say I’m glad I got injured, but a lot of good things came out of it.”

In 2015, Doby managed to appear in only 15 matches and was unable to put up the same numbers the Lakers were used to seeing next to her name in the box score.

Next year, though, was going to be different.

Except it wasn’t.

Right off the bat in 2016, Doby sprained her ankle and missed the first eight matches of the campaign.

However, what she learned and developed over her last few stints on the injury list helped her stay productive over those lost matches.

“She has such a good presence on and off the court with our team, that she really helped us through everything,” Olson said of Doby.

Teammates say Doby, though she is not a captain, holds an underlying leadership role on the team. Laker players see that Olson, their captain, trusts Doby and in turn they trust her the same way. This, like many other things this season, can be traced back to her developments that came in her time spent sidelined the previous season.

“(The injuries) set her up to be a leader and now people really respect her. If you don’t have those relationships, then people won’t follow you,” Scanlon said.

Doby, now healthy and ready to contribute, came back with a vengeance against Hillsdale and Northwood the weekend of Sept. 16, where she notched a total of seven blocks, six of which came in four sets against Northwood, and played in all nine sets the Lakers played over the two matches.

“I think taking that step in leadership (was important).” Scanlon said. “I always knew she was a great player and she’d contribute on the court, but I think she just always has a positive energy and we have a young group of kids that can get freaked out sometimes. To have her have that maturity and bring her calmness to the floor and a high energy level as well, those are the things that will help the success of this team.”