LANSING | When athletes become seasoned veterans in a given sport, those individuals may be expected to carry their respective teams on their shoulders from time to time.
Fortunately for Illiana Christian's girls volleyball team, Sydnee VanBeek showed her ability to rise to that challenge on Thursday evening.
VanBeek's offensive and defensive prowess, which included three aces and seven kills, helped the Vikings defeat Ridgewood 25-15, 25-13 in the first Metro Suburban Conference match of the year for both teams.
Illiana coach Nikki Van Dyke commended VanBeek's performance in the season opener and also noted how much the senior has grown as a player over the last few years.
"Sydnee's first love is volleyball, but I think she's fallen in love even harder with the game recently," Van Dyke said. "She always plays relaxed and with confidence."
Despite her coach's praise, VanBeek, a four-year varsity volleyball player, was quick to acknowledge the significance of a cohesive Vikings team overall.
"We're trying to become more like a family, so positive attitudes are important," she said. "As a senior, I want to set an example for the girls who are new to varsity."
VanBeek's leadership certainly rubbed off on her teammates against Ridgewood, particularly when Illiana opened the first set on a 9-0 run, a deficit from which the Rebels were unable to recover.
"It's amazing how much we got ahead by because we've only had five practices (so far)," VanBeek said. "It's important for us to get a good head start, but even if we don't, we need to (work together) to come back."
The second game proved more competitive until roughly the midway point, when the Vikings went on a 13-4 run, which included six unanswered points, to close out the match.
Other key contributors for Illiana included senior Mikinsey Pruim (five kills), senior McKenna Lucito (nine assists) and junior Hanna VanderWoude (four blocks).
Van Dyke said Thursday's victory ranked as one of the Vikings' best volleyball starts in recent years.
"This was a big confidence booster for us because Ridgewood has gotten better (since I started coaching varsity)," she said. "It was good to walk out of here with smiles and a (win)."
As for the visitors, Rebels coach David Wlodarczyk credited Illiana's strong performance — particularly that of VanBeek — and expressed optimism for his own team going forward.
"We weren't capitalizing on good passes, but (our girls) showed resilience," he said. "They have big hearts and always play to point 25.
"I'll take a team with big hearts any day."