Punahou’s lively libero
LIFE wasn't supposed to be quite this way. When your little brother becomes even more of a volleyball addict than you are, there's a recognition that drifts from mystification to awe. But you understand the obsession and the devotion. He wants to sweat. He wants to hit the hardwood.
The obstacles never seem to end. Every day, you have enough homework to fit a small library. Workouts upon workouts. But you get in the car with baby brother and off to his practice you go.
If you're not there for him, how else does he dive head-first into the game? Not when mom is busy at work. You have the key, literally. This wasn't exactly what you imagined five years ago. A decade ago. There's no one else to take little Kelsey to practice. But it is what it is, and you, Sydney Yogi, put the pedal to the metal.
Songs from your favorite musical, "Rent," swim through your mind. For some odd reason, you are at brilliant peace.
SERBIA. MEXICO. Texas. Such is the life for an elite international volleyball player. For an All-State libero at a mecca like Punahou and one of the top 100 players in the nation, according to PrepVolleyball.com. Hawaii, as guru Jim Iams says, is "the land of the libero." The former college and international coach would know. So, junior national teams have scooped up Yogi again and again to deactivate live, airborne ammo in their back rows.
"Her experience on the national team has raised her level of play," Kamehameha coach Chris Blake said. "Besides her never-say-die attitude, she's taken over as the emotional leader of this team. She fires up her team and they respond to her."
The first taste of "big-time" volleyball for Yogi came in the mid-1990s, while she was barely old enough to walk. Barry and Laurie Yogi were volleyball fanatics, playing in a coed league at Kaimuki High School gym, and their toddler always wanted to be at the gym rather than sit idly at grandma's. By the time Sydney was a fifth grader, she was on the court with these former high school players, setting and digging over and over.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Punahou, the third-ranked girls volleyball team in the state, relies on libero Sydney Yogi for leadership.
Mom played at Kaiser back when the Cougars ruled the public schools. Laurie MacDonald and her teammates lost in the state championship match against Punahou. Sending Sydney to Punahou wasn't a serious thought until she excelled academically at a young age.
Sydney was accepted at Iolani and Punahou.
"She just needed that challenge," Laurie said. "She went to a big (elementary) school, Mililani Mauka, and there were lots of good teachers there."
So, in sixth grade, Sydney was at Punahou.
"We didn't have the money, so we applied for financial aid," Laurie recalled. Between tuition and travel costs with Sydney's club team, they've scraped by. All the traveling at the club and international levels has paid off. Texas asked about Sydney early on, while she was just a sophomore. She made an unofficial tour to the campus not long after that, and she'll take her official visit this weekend. She will sign her letter of intent next month, spurning offers from about a dozen other D-I schools.
"She's always been level-headed, really driven," Laurie said. "I'm really proud of her and I'm really gonna miss her in a few months. I even asked her, 'What if something were to happen and you weren't playing volleyball?' But she said, 'No mom, I'm going away. I need to grow up.'
"It's gonna be really hard to separate, but that's my job, to prepare her for the next chapter in her life."
Now a senior, Sydney has given her mom a gift. With a 3.7 grade-point average, she qualified for an academic scholarship at Punahou.
KELSEY WAS TOO young to remember much, but Sydney was a seventh-grader when it all hit the fan. Marriage is forever, but divorce is final. Though you can hide it, the scar is permanent.
Barry, who teaches at Kaimuki High, continued to coach volleyball. Though he coaches an intermediate team at Punahou, the gap between himself and his only daughter is enormous.
"She really did a lot on her own. The good thing about her is she still has fun playing the game," he said.
Sydney put all her energy into the game. Into school. Into friends. Into coaches like Lehua Inamoto. Into mom and Kelsey.
The blueprint of her young life funneled Yogi to her destiny -- to lead. A young Punahou squad has relied on Yogi's steady influence. The Buffanblu are ranked No. 3 in the state, but climb an uphill battle in the ILH.
"She was overwhelmingly picked as one of the captains. She's learning to be a leader. At this age, you often get that job because people like you, but you want the team to do what's needed," Iams said. "I want her to continue to emerge as a leader, to keep everyone accountable. She brings experience, court demeanor, range, confidence ... but the biggest part is mental toughness. A libero can't hide out there."
Iams has challenged Yogi to lift her game with both discipline and instincts.
"A libero has to be disciplined. There's a lot of keys you have to read and rules to follow," he said.
All-State or not, Yogi has more to learn from a guru like Iams. "I can't just do whatever I want," she said. "You can read where the hitter's going, but if I just guess, he doesn't like that."
Indirectly, she and one of her best buddies, Erik Shoji, feed off each other. Shoji was the starting libero for the junior national team.
"Her laugh is pretty ridiculous. It attracts people wherever she goes because it's so loud. I'm always like, 'Sydney, be quiet,' " Shoji said of his old friend. "And she can sing. She wants to be in a musical this spring."