January 3, 2021 – By NJP

Syd Eckhardt is an excellent volleyball player. No matter what surface she is playing on. She has made a personal choice to focus the majority of her attention on the sand. And who can blame her? Life on the beach sounds pretty darn good. And certainly where her passion lies.

So how good a volleyball player is Sydney Eckhardt? The answer is Excellent! Good enough to earn a spot on the Jacksonville University D1 Beach Volleyball program. She has consistently been at the top 3 of the NJ ratings for women and 18U beach players along with players like Kate Stoughton (Brick Memorial and commit to Long Beach D1) and Lauren Wilcock (Mendham and D1 commit to University of South Carolina). And despite the differences between the games, she has excelled at both beach and hard court.

Syd’s preference comes from a few different angles. First of all, she loves the beach (who doesn’t?). She has the ability through her Stars and Stripes Club experience to play in tournaments up and down the coast during the winters. And she also loves the strategy difference of having just two players, with no subs, and the dynamic of having just one partner to get the most out of their joint play. The hard court relies on a much larger group to contribute so beach gives a higher level of responsibility to each individual players, which Syd obviously enjoys.

In regards to high school, Hunterdon Central is expected to have a solid team for Syd’s senior year in the Spring despite the exit of 8 varsity seniors to graduation. Division rival North Hunterdon is projected to be at the very top of the state for the upcoming campaign and Bridgewater-Raritan, Hillsborough, and Ridge are always formidable in the Skylands. With a shortened season, all divisions will be up for grabs with a smaller schedule and uncertain times. HC pushed North Hunterdon to three sets twice last year so they will be looking to turn the tide in 2021.

Syd joined with current a current freshman at Jacksonvile and former Union Catholic star Olivia Szyszkiewicz to win the beach tournament at Highline this past weekend to kick off the 2021 year with a bang! Signs of a championship pair perhaps for the Dolphins in the future.

Sydney is an outstanding role model for girls in New Jersey that are thinking about playing beach volleyball. She has balanced both sports, including extensive travel, while maintaining excellent grades. She sets her goals for academics high and looks to have an outstanding future in front of her and a clear vision for success.

Beach life is serving her well…

Here is our interview with Ms. Eckhardt…

Tell us a bit about yourself, Sydney?

I attend Hunterdon Central Regional High School, and I live in Readington, New Jersey. I am a senior this year, graduating class of 2021. I play volleyball for my high school team, as well as club beach volleyball outside of school. I play for a club called Stars and Stripes Beach Volleyball club and they have an indoor sand facility so we can play all year round in the sand even when it’s cold! I live with my mom and dad and brother who is in college right now at Champlain College. Both my parents played indoor and beach volleyball when they were younger and so they helped bring me into, and teach me about the sport I know and love.

How long have you played volleyball and what inspired you to take up volleyball initially?

I have played indoor volleyball for the past 6 years, while playing beach volleyball only in the summers. And I have played beach volleyball year round for the past 3 years. When I was younger around 11 or 12, I was hanging out with one of my friends and her parents told me that they thought I was tall and would be good at volleyball. I had actually been a dancer for five years until I was 12 and I wasn’t aware that both my parents had played volleyball. So the influence of my friend who played volleyball and said it was fun was what got me to start playing. Of course when I started playing I realized it was my favorite thing to do and I wanted to devote myself to it. I started playing beach volleyball because of my love for the beach and the fact that there are only two people on the court when playing. I also like that there are no substitutes, and how beach volleyball is a very mental game. 

What are your metrics/details? Height, vertical, position, club team, etc. What’s your favorite position to play?

I am 5’8” tall and I play as an outside hitter when I play for my high school team. Also, I played as an outside hitter/defensive specialist when I played for VB Rags for 3 years. As I mentioned before I play for Stars and Stripes Beach Volleyball club and there are no positions in beach volleyball except being a blocker or defender and I am a split blocker/defender. It really depends who I am playing with that day. If I am playing with someone my height or only an inch or two taller, we can split block which means we both equally block and defend throughout the game. If I am playing with someone taller than me who designates themself as a blocker, then I will be the defender. I think my years playing as an outside as well as a defensive specialist in indoor volleyball has prepared me well for being a split blocker and a defender in beach volleyball. One thing I love about being a defender is reading the hitter on the other team, and running down the ball in the sand.

The Beach appears to be in your heart for volleyball. Tell us about your beach experience, successes, and journey.

I came across beach volleyball during the Summers between playing indoor volleyball and it eventually became something I realized I liked more. I like how there are only two people on a team because you always get to be playing and touching the ball. I also like how  you have to read the other side of the court to see what defense they are playing, what spots on the court are open and read where they might hit the ball at any given time. When Stars and Stripes beach volleyball club opened I was immediately fascinated by the idea that I could play beach volleyball year round, even in New Jersey, and so I decided to switch my focus from indoor to beach. Through constant practice and playing in tournaments I decided I would want to continue playing in college and so at the end of sophomore year I began the college search and recruiting process. When I found Jacksonville University and compared it against other schools, I really liked the campus, the academic options, and the fact that they have a good beach volleyball program. It is the perfect fit for me and I am so glad I will get to be a part of that team in the future!

Hunterdon Central Girls Volleyball

Tell us about your Central teammates. Who do you expect will be this year’s standout and up and coming players?

My central teammates are one of my favorite parts about the high school volleyball season. They are all so talented, smart, friendly and enthusiastic about the game of volleyball. A new addition to the varsity team this past 2019 season was a freshman, Amanda Shirk. Now a sophomore, I believe her skill level, work ethic, and height brought a lot to our team last year and will continue to grow and be a huge part of our team in the years to come. She is a super nice and fun person to play volleyball alongside and I hope, COVID permitting, we can do that again this year.

You have played with a variety of ladies including Sam Green, Katie Martinez, Emily Kubicsko, Ava Novello, and Simrin Carlsen. Tell us about your beach teammates.

I love all of my beach teammates! They are all amazing and talented partners who I love playing with. I play with different people, which is common in beach volleyball, because I want to be good at playing with all different sorts of players in order to prepare for college. I have played with the people you mentioned, and many others, because of their personalities and different skill sets. I really take into account what kind of person I am playing with because it is just the two of us on the court, so I like to play with people who are positive, determined and smart, and I like to be the same kind of partner in return. All of the people I have played with are all of these things I have described and more, and I am so lucky to have such a great group of friends to play beach volleyball with!

Who inspires you?

April Ross is my all time beach volleyball inspiration. Not only has she won medals in the Summer olympics, but was named the 2009 beach volleyball world champion, and won many tournaments in the AVP pro tour and the FIVB tour. Her many accolades can convince anyone who doesn’t even play volleyball that she is amazing, but one thing that always stood out to me was her competitive drive to be the best she can be. Serving is one of the only things in beach volleyball that is 100% on you and no one else and she has been called the “Best Server” on the world tour multiple times. She took the one thing she could control about the game and made herself the best at it. I aspire to be as determined and motivated as Ross in order to improve my game and be the best teammate I can be.

NJP considers you as one of the top players in the state. We see you have committed to play D1 beach volleyball at Jacksonville University. What drove your decision to attend that school?

When looking at schools I always looked first to make sure it had the academic level I was looking for, then to make sure it was the right fit for me in terms of location and student population; and of course I wanted it to have a beach volleyball team so I could continue my athletic career.  I knew Jacksonville University was the school for me because it has a really good biology program (which is what I want to study), it is in the perfect location for me (sunny Florida), and when I visited the campus everything felt right. I could see myself going there the second I walked onto the campus.  

Jacksonville Dolphins - Wikipedia

What do you plan to study in college or what is your career path?

In college I plan to study biochemistry. The biology program at Jacksonville University is very strong and I really enjoy learning about the biology and chemistry sciences.  After college my goal is to be a forensic scientist. Having a major in biochem will help prepare me for that career, and if I really enjoy it there are other steps I can take after my first four years of college to qualify myself further for a forensic science job. There are also many jobs that fall under the category of biochemistry that interest me, and so I am excited to see where the major will take me.

Who is your support group?

My mom and dad are my biggest support group. They have supported me no matter what sport or activity I was pursuing, and they have always wanted me to be the best I can be at the things I am passionate about. Because they both played beach and indoor volleyball they are also there to give me advice if I need it.  A lot of times in beach volleyball there is no coach by your court telling you what to do and so it’s always helpful to have someone who knows the game and cares about my athletic pursuit by my side.  My parents are willing to drop everything to take me to practice three to four times a week, which is an hour away, and are willing to fly down to Florida with me in the Winter when it is too cold to play in tournaments here. They truly are my biggest fans and I don’t know what I would do without them. 

How are you and your family dealing with the current world situation with COVID-19? How did the postponement of the Fall high school season affect your HC team? 

My parents are working virtually, and my brother spent this past semester attending college virtually from home.  I am the only one who goes in to school on Monday and Tuesday, and then I am virtual the rest of the week. We are all being very careful and wearing our masks in public as well as staying socially distanced from people in public to ensure safety.  My family and I all made posters to give to the local hospital in our area to keep spirits up for anyone in the hospital.  I really enjoyed getting to drop those off, knowing it might make someone’s day a little brighter.

The postponement of the Fall high school season was sad at first because for the past three years it has been such a great way to start the school year, being around friends and playing the sport I love. I couldn’t ask for a more fun after school activity. However, having the season postponed has opened up the opportunity for our team to partake in strength and conditioning three times a week, which we do outside, socially distanced, and with masks on. I think being able to do this before our season will only make us stronger and even bring us closer together as a team. 

What is your favorite inspirational video or music that you like to watch or listen to before games?

Something inspirational that I like to read/watch before games is John Wooden quotes or speeches. John Wooden is someone that my high school volleyball coaches first told me about as he is a famous basketball coach and teacher. He has a myriad of famous quotes and speeches on what true success is and how to be a good athlete and person. Listening to him talk or reading his quotes is something I like to do before games in order to be in the right mindset when playing.

What are your other hobbies or interests?

My favorite non-volleyball activity is biking. I love riding my bike, either by myself or with company, and for the purpose of working out or just for leisure. I have always been an outdoorsy person and so I also enjoy walking with my two dogs and hiking. I also love being around friends and family, and actually our family vacations usually involve hiking or walking around parks or historically significant areas. Volunteering is another really big thing for me. I am a volunteer for the red cross and I am an ambassador for the red cross club at my school. I love being active in the community and so I work at blood drives and help my club raise money for the red cross in times of need. We have found ways to continue to help the red cross safely while being in a pandemic which is important because they need our help just as much now as they did before.

Is there a teacher or coach who really helped you along the way that you would like to recognize here?

VB RAGS Volleyball Academy, New Jersey - Posts | Facebook

I have had so many different coaches from playing indoor, beach and high school volleyball and they all helped me become the player I am today. To start off, my indoor club volleyball coach from VB Rags, Carly Rivera, spent countless hours with me working on my passing form, my serving form and my hitting approach.  He always believed in me, and I have him to thank for my fundamental skill set that enabled me to transition well to the beach volleyball game.  

Stars and Stripes Volleyball Club

My Stars and Stripes beach volleyball coaches, John Bracco, Greg Wood, and Mike Adams, taught me how to take my indoor volleyball skills and apply them to the beach volleyball game, in addition to learning all of the intricacies of the beach game.  They all work with me in a very technically specific manner to adjust what I am doing and make my beach game more precise and clean.  Their constant support, and the in depth analysis they give, along with a lot of reps, has really helped me improve as a player.  They have also helped me with the long process of college recruiting, which I could not have done without them. I am so glad to be a part of Stars and Stripes!

Last but not least, my high school volleyball coach, Kevin Jones is another huge supporter of mine. He always has my best interests at heart, and his motivational talks he gives to our team about work ethic, determination and what it takes to be an athlete, always keep me focused on what is important in sports and in life. It definitely benefited me to work with so many different coaches because everyone has a slightly different expertise or piece of information to give. All the feedback I receive helps me grow, and I greatly appreciate all of the wonderful coaches I have and continue to learn from every day.

Originally posted 12/5/20 and relaunched for beach week.

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