April 13, 2007

Sindy set tone at net as assists leader, captain

For a volleyball program that has seen its share of ups and downs over the years, the rare combination of tenacity, drive, and leadership in a single player can make a world of difference. From 2002–2006, setter Nikki Sindy demonstrated all three characteristics.

A native of Granger, IN, Sindy nearly attended Northwestern but decided to apply to the U of C because of its superior academic programs and contacted head coach Dorinda von Tersch about possibly playing for the Maroons.

“In the recruiting process, I learned of Nikki’s love for the game and being competitive as well as her pride and commitment to excellence in the classroom. Both are great attributes to finding success at the U of C,” says von Tersch.

Sindy’s decision paid off for both parties, with von Tersch gaining a star setter and Sindy quickly becoming a stabilizing figure on the team for the next four years. On a more personal note, the veteran eventually busted the school record for assists, passing the old mark by a long shot and becoming the first player to crack the 3,000-assist barrier.

The previous record, held by Cindy Fong (A.B. ’98), was 2,857 collected in 456 games, and Sindy shattered that number on October 7, 2006 with seven games to go before the UAAs. During a 1–3 loss at Judson (16–15), she registered 24 assists to put her in sole possession of the record and set her sights on reaching an even higher bar. That particular landmark came a week later.

“I knew for sure that I could break [Fong's record] last year. I was only 400 or 500 away, and I knew that I would break it, so my new goal became breaking 3,000.... I knew I would be the first one to reach that number, so even if someone were to break my record, I would still have that.”

With 28 assists in the squad’s 3–2 loss to Rochester (23–13, 3–8 UAA) on October 15, Sindy reached new heights by cracking the 3,000-assist mark. From there, she went on to push that number up even more, finally ending with 3,146 career assists.

For Sindy, the ambition to rewrite the program’s record books was there from the very beginning of her Chicago career. That dream, however, came at a cost, and nearly didn’t even become a possibility. During the spring of her first year, Sindy suffered an injury that was later diagnosed as costochondritis, an inflammation of the cartilage connecting the rib to the breastbone that causes sharp pain that mimics a heart attack. The condition cut back on her time on the court as a sophomore and remained a factor until her final game.

Sindy was determined not to let the injury hamper her career, though, and this drive soon became evident to von Tersch and the team.

“It was a hard transition to go through, but with time and strength of character, Nikki found a way to manage her pain and still compete effectively.… Nikki succeeded because she chose to not let it interfere with a game she loves and her bond with her teammates.

“Nikki played through so much pain her junior and senior seasons. The cartilage that connects her rib cage was torn, so breathing was a chore. Imagine doing sprints and running down balls to set for six hours a day, three times a week,” says second-year outside hitter Katie Volzer. “I’m impressed she made it through.”

In her last season as a Maroon, Sindy co-captained a squad that was shaky in confidence and error-prone but always played with heart. In their final appearances of the season, and the last tournament of her career, the team managed to gain a highly respectable fifth place at the competitive UAA championship dominated by perennial powerhouses.

Sindy counts the result as one of her favorite memories. “Every year we’ve gotten seventh place or tied for eighth, and this year, we got fifth. On the last two points, I got an ace, we sided out, and then I set up [first-year outside hitter] Diandra [Bucciarelli] for this amazing kill, and we won. Fifth place is the highest we’ve been in seven years, so we were all very happy.”

Her other favorite memory, surprisingly, doesn’t involve shattering school records. In fact, when asked, she couldn’t even remember the exact game in which she reached that milestone. Instead, she cites the 4–3 victory over nationally ranked Elmhurst during the 2004 season.

“I was ecstatic for days,” Sindy said.

Call it selflessness or leadership that comes with experience—whatever it is, von Tersch says, “as a captain, she embraced the meaning of the team,” and it showed off the court as well, in the form of baked goods for teammates and other acts of generosity. Both Volzer and fellow second-year outside hitter Kerry Dornfeld recall how Sindy helped them move into a new apartment.

“She came over and scrubbed our shower tiles with a toothbrush and bleach just to help us get the place clean before we moved all of our stuff in,” Dornfeld said.

Next up for biochemistry major Sindy is the Keck Graduate Institute in Southern California, but volleyball will remain a part of her routine.

“I’ll probably play beach volleyball, since I’ll be only an hour away from the beach. It’ll be nice to play in doubles instead of six-person teams. I’ll actually get to hit. And tan.”