The Day's All-Area Volleyball Player of the Year: East Lyme's Sydney Iannantuono
She describes herself as awkward at best during her freshman year at East Lyme High School.
"My body was gangly. My limbs were so long," Sydney Iannantuono, now an East Lyme senior, was saying recently. "I didn't know what to do with myself. I'd be flying everywhere.
"I got less goofy."
That's one way of saying it.
"Dominant" is another.
In four seasons, Iannantuono turned her clumsiness into the power and precision of a commanding outside hitter, earning Class L all-state honors this season. She compiled 431 kills, ranking second in the state in kills per set behind Kiara Robichaud of state champion Joel Barlow, according to East Lyme coach Jack Biggs.
Iannantuono, whom Biggs mentions in the same rare air as former program greats Madison Bell, Molly Giannattasio, Emily Passman and company, was named The Day's 2018 All-Area Volleyball Player of the Year after leading the Vikings to a 19-5 record.
"Sydney was one of those great leaders. It was great to see her grow," Biggs said. "She described herself 100 percent spot on as a freshman. But we knew if she physically got stronger and really wanted to commit to volleyball and make that commitment ... she really did that.
"Senior year, she really came back a whole different player. She was more dynamic than, 'Hi, I can hit a ball hard.' You have to adjust to the setter, adjust to the passers, pick each other up on the floor. And you have to do it even when you have bad games. The fact she was a first team Class L (all-state) player speaks volumes about who she is and what she was able to accomplish this year."
Iannantuono, who will play beginning next season at Division III Simmons College in Boston, calls the past four years a journey. She started out her freshman season playing for the junior varsity and varsity teams, with a maximum of eight games per night.
"I'd be so tired. People would say, 'What's wrong with you?'" Iannantuono said. "It did really get me better."
There are a few things Iannantuono labels as most significant throughout her career.
She enjoys competing: lifting weights, selling Girl Scout Cookies, playing Words With Friends. And she found of all the sports she tried, the frenetic pace of volleyball most suited her.
"This is me," she said.
Also on the top of the list of importance was her leadership role this year. Ianannantuono, who has a strong bond with her mom, Jodi, tried to show a little of that love to her younger teammates this year in helping them acclimate to the program.
"I bring them food, work out with them, have lunch," Iannantuono said. "It starts from the top down. That was my goal, the younger girls not being scared of the seniors. Up until this year, I honestly said nothing, but junior and senior year, the upperclassmen took on that role, grab people under my wing that I knew were good people.
"I just really love these girls. The bond is so nice."
The 5-foot-8 Iannantuono helped her development by playing volleyball with the Connecticut Juniors travel team. She learned technique — "seeing things that other people do that you didn't know people were doing on purpose," she said — and the patience not to try to annihilate every ball.
"My biggest thing is just being smart with the ball," she said. "I can't hit it as hard as someone who's 6-2. I have to aim my hit and control it. You're not going to get three points from hitting the ball and smashing it on the ground."
The accolades seem strange to her.
"I just kind of say thank you," Iannantuono said. "It's weird that they see me as I see other people. I'm a lot better than freshman year at least."
In addition to her number of kills, which was more than half of East Lyme's team total, Iannantuono finished with a team-best 69 aces and a team-high hitting percentage of .334. She added 203 digs, 45 assists and 14 blocks. She is a three-time All-Eastern Connecticut Conference selection.
Iannantuono plans to major in exercise science at Simmons with hopes of becoming a physician's assistant.
"She's a competitor. She wants to work," Biggs said. "She wants to help out the younger players. She cares about the program. ... She could do so many things as an outside hitter, adjust to certain sets, see the court a different way. That's the level of play that not just the average player has."
Said Iannantuono: "I have a lot of passion for it. That's for sure."
The Day's 2018 All-Area Volleyball Team
Player of the Year — Sydney Iannantuono (East Lyme)
Mya Delesdernier (East Lyme)
Abby Diamantini (Montville)
Sophie Dubreuil (East Lyme)
Gretchen Dusza (Waterford)
Eliana Jewell (NFA)
Nora Ryan (Fitch)