Standing out on her own, Elon setter just wants to be Sydel — not Sydel Curry


Whenever someone new meets the Elon volleyball team, be it a recruit or simply a visitor, the players have a tradition of introducing themselves, one by one. Each player will tell her name, her major and a little about herself.

But when it comes to the Phoenix setter, she always keeps it short and sweet.

“Hi, I’m Sydel,” she says.

“She never says her last name,” Elon coach Mary Tendler said. “I’m assuming she does that on purpose because she just wants to be Sydel.”

Maybe you know her last name: Curry. And maybe you know some of the other Currys in her family: Mom, Sonya, played volleyball at Virginia Tech. Dad, Dell, played in the NBA. Brother Seth played for Duke and now plays for the Sacramento Kings.

And perhaps you’ve heard of big brother, Stephen, who not only is the NBA’s reigning MVP, but also led the Golden State Warriors to their first NBA title in 40 years.

Sydel Curry discarded her basketball career years ago when she discovered her talent in volleyball. And although she’s striving to make her own name in her own sport, she fully embraces the family that not only spawned her love of sports and competitive edge but the very foundation upon which she’s modeled her life.

After all, the path Sydel Curry chose isn’t so different. It’s exactly what her mom did.

Curry started her athletic career playing basketball, of course. That’s what you do in the Curry household. She was “Rebound Girl” for her brothers, she says.

“I would get a shot every now and then when they missed a shot, which wasn’t very often,” Curry said. “But I was there in the gym with them, rebounding for them, passing them back the ball. “

Then one day in middle school, Curry was messing around with a basketball, tossing it up and down and she suddenly realized she was setting. Just like her mom used to do at Virginia Tech.

“I was like, ‘Mom, Mom! Look! I’m doing it!’” she said.

She tried to play both volleyball and basketball after that, combining the two family sports. But in high school, her club volleyball season played at the same time as the school basketball team. She had to choose.

And she was worried what her father might say when she realized she loved volleyball more.

“She thought I would be disappointed when she told me she wanted to stop playing basketball, but I clearly was not,” Dell Curry said. “I kind of knew she was going to do that. I watched her play basketball, and she didn’t like running up and down the floor too much. She’s very competitive, though, and that runs in our family. She had that right away.”

Other traits that run in the Curry family are the abilities to overcome obstacles and knowing how to prioritize.

Steph Curry famously was rebuffed by big-name universities, so chose Davidson College — where he shined.

Sydel Curry dislocated her kneecap during her second practice at Elon, which forced her to take a redshirt year.

“The best advice (from my family) is that it’s OK to mess up, but it’s how you recover, how you rebound from it, what you learn,” Sydel Curry said. “Always take what has happened and learn from it, good or bad, and become a better person.”

As for prioritizing, Sydel Curry had one of the truest tests of her values last spring when she was approaching finals week at Elon. As she scrambled to get to her last classes for review, her parents told her they would love for her to come out to Oakland, Calif., to be with the family. Her brother Steph was about to be named the Most Valuable Player of the NBA.

“I was like, ‘I don’t know, I have my own life here, I have classes to go to,’” she said. “But Elon really worked with me and realized that it was a crucial and important time for my family to be together. So, I flew out to San Francisco, stayed there for two or three days, flew back, two days later, took my finals, then flew back to San Francisco. It was a hectic time, but it was totally worth it.”

Time management, prioritization and leadership all are skills she’s learned from her family. Like her brothers, who are point guards, Sydel Curry is in a leadership role on Elon’s volleyball team as the setter.

“I tell people it’s a lot like being the quarterback,” Tendler said. “They get the ball and have a play, and they make that decision on where to go to. Except the quarterback has it a little easier, the ball is just hiked to them and they catch it. In volleyball, it deflects off a passer’s arm and it could go anywhere. So, it’d be like hiking to a quarterback and saying, ‘Go run 10 yards that way and catch it.’ She’s got to be really athletic running down passes and digs and just using her leadership skills to get the most out of her teammates.”

Leadership skills is something that comes naturally to each of the Currys, but Sydel also has carefully watched her brothers and parents to glean more.

“I’m a huge observer of what’s going on,” she said. “If I don’t have any questions, it’s because I’m always watching what they’re doing. They (my brothers) are obviously great role models, and my mother and my father are great role models of what to do in pressure situations. They’re great role models in that way just in their actions.”

Aside from the extraordinary athletic skills in the house growing up, Sydel Curry says she feels fortunate to have lived a normal life growing up in Charlotte, N.C.

“In the Curry house, being siblings, it’s super-normal,” she said. “We have fights, we get along, they tease me, I act like one of the guys when I can, I hang around them when they have their cute friends come over. I’m just like the normal little sister. It’s pretty basic.”

In fact, sometimes she forgets the famous family she comes from, her dad who does color commentary for the Charlotte Hornets, the talented oldest brother whose NBA playoff games she attended and helped splash her face across TVs everywhere.

“Sometimes I’ll catch people staring, and I’ll forget and wonder, ‘Do I have something on my face?’ Ohhhh, never mind, I get it,” she said.

After all, she’s just Sydel. That’s all she wants to be known as.

Jodie Valade and Don Schick

Jodie Valade is a freelance writer. Don Schick is a freelance producer. Both are based in Charlotte.