Sydney Townsend attended North American Martyrs School in Lincoln and graduated from Pius X High School in 2014. She attends the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, where she was a key part on the national champion volleyball team. Townsend has also been honored for academics, sportsmanship and leadership. She visited Pius X to speak with student-athletes during practice, and answered more questions about many topics.
What does it take to be successful in different areas?
A lot of people have asked me that. I don’t really know other than just deciding to do it. I decided I wanted to do great in all those things, and you just have to do it. I don’t think there is a one answer that fits all kinds of things. You just have to commit to doing it.
On when this approach started
I think growing up, school was easy for me, and it wasn’t really a challenge so I focused on volleyball. And then I got to college and I was like, ‘Wow, ok, I have to try in these classes’ and then I think being able to turn that work ethic over from sports just helps the process.
Handling more demands on time
I think again that you have to decide that you want to do it, and do it. And I sacrificed a lot of things to do that. And maybe I didn’t have as many friends as everyone else had, or as good of a social life, or I definitely did not sleep as much as everyone else. You just have to make those sacrifices and know how much it means to you.
Impact of her faith today
My faith is the center of my life, as it should be, I guess. I just, I love it. I love God.
I go to the Newman Center often, and I’m a part of Focus Varsity Catholic. We do Bible studies once a week, and get together to build that community, and it’s fun when other people do it with you. Or like my roommate Annika Albrecht, she’s on our team, and we just always did it together. We were kind of partners, so it was a lot easier with that.
How did Pius X help you for college?
I guess from what I’ve gathered from my friends who went to other schools, I think we were very well prepared for college. I felt more challenged here than at other high schools, even though I may not have felt it as much. We came in, and I knew how to study, I knew how to take notes, I knew how to do those things on my own. Because I think that was really encouraged here. Knowing we had this great solid community here, and I went to a school where a lot of Pius kids went, and so we were in a lot of the same classes, and we could work together and form study groups.
A favorite class from high school? Or a teacher?
A favorite class? Oh gosh. I don’t know, I mean Jake (Moore) was my favorite coach. I always liked AP Bio with Mrs. Kelly. I saw her the other day actually, so that was cool. AP Gov was fun. The smaller classes.
On getting recognized and being a role model
It still makes me nervous. They made me do the press conference the other day, and I hate them, and I told our media guy, Nate Pohlen, actually, I told him I never wanted to be on camera. Don’t make me do it. “Syd, you got to. It’s your senior year.” But I’m pretty sure you could see the sweat dripping down my forehead in the news.
I think it’s something you have to get used to, like a high-level sport in such a visible place that we are.
For me it’s a lot cooler to interact with the community rather than cameras and media, because I don’t know, it scares me.
But we went to Wal-Mart, and people see me and they are like, ‘oh my gosh,’ and they want to talk to you. I think it’s a big deal and it’s important to remember how much of a role we do have and can motivate people.
On TV cameras at volleyball games
I would say on game day, you get into the adrenaline of the game that you forget about it, you forget it’s there. I mean, even in the final four (volleyball championships), we forget there are 18,000 people there, and you know you don’t really think about it until they cheer really loud and then you are like, ‘Whoa!” And so I think it’s hard to forget about, but in those game day moments, you kind of do.
Advice for today’s seniors, many of whom will be heading for college soon
I guess I would say to find that solid group of friends first because you are going to fail in studies, fail in whatever you do. It’s college, you are supposed to. So I think just finding that group of friends even though you do fail, they just push you to do better. For me, that was with my faith. I found my friends in my faith. Then you can place your identify in something other than school, other than athletics. And so when you do fail, it’s not as big of a deal. So when you do succeed, you really succeed and you can really enjoy that moment.
Her contribution to the ‘team’ aspect
So our ‘with each other, for each other’ slogan kind of started in the summer. I think that comes a lot with the off-the-court mentalities and that carries over to on the court. And that is something we learned a lot throughout my four years, and (we) as seniors really wanted to make that this year. And I just think it’s important to remember that all of your teammates are different, all of you have different personalities, all of you were raised differently. Sometimes you might react to one situation, and they are going to react in a completely different way because that’s what they know. So I think it’s important to remember that everyone is different but you can have the same goal, and you just have to recognize that.
On being a ‘little’
I guess being in the back row is kind of an unrecognized position. More recently the liberos are getting a little bit more attention but I think with any team there are those people on the bench, I was on the bench for three years, so I think it’s just important that you remember everyone on the team makes a difference, and you are the ones pushing them in practice. In our gym, we really take heart in that. We call ourselves the bomb squad and we get really excited, and we try to win and that is your time to have fun and let loose. There’s not really a position that’s little, although it may seem that way with stats, but I think everyone is important.
On switching positions during high school
I always loved back row more, so it was not a hard transition I guess but it’s definitely hard to not be able to hit the ball. It is something you get used to and it’s fun. Everyone growing up, no one wants to be libero. Everyone wants to get the hit and make the kill, so I think it was a hard transition in that way, but for me, Jake always pushed us just to believe that we should do what’s best for the team, find your role on the team, and really excel in that. So I think that made it easier for me when he asked me, he said this is what your team needs, and I said all right.
Surprises since national title victory
Surprised to me? I don’t know. I have been sleeping a lot, to be honest. Oh, I gained 600 followers on Instagram so that kind of comes with it. That happened last time, too. I think it’s just an incredible feeling and it’s hard to come back down to earth and remember that it’s not the center of your life, but really enjoy that moment and I think that’s the biggest thing right now, just being able to enjoy it, because we don’t have anything else to do right now. (Laughter)
On future plans
Hopefully I will be starting my Ph.D. in August. I have applied so we’ll see. I am applying for a Ph.D. in biochemistry with specialization in bioinformatics, which is kind of like building computational models. Right now we are working on the immune system and modeling that, so that we can use data that is already there and put that together for others who choose to use it and make predictions, and see how a certain drug might influence the whole system altogether. So that’s the specialization. And hopefully when I finish that in four years, I’ve always wanted to be a professor and teach and guide students through what I went through, and help them find their path.