New Kid on the Block: First Year Ute Sylva Strzinkov Puts Utes Over the Top

By and

Winning 10 matches in a row, defeating conference powerhouses BYU and Colorado State, completing an undefeated season at home and having the highest ranking the school has ever received have been the accomplishments the University of Utah volleyball team has attained this year.

The differences between what last year’s team accomplished and what this year’s team has accomplished are not that disparate, but the team’s demeanor has been lifted to unseen heights

Last year, the offense was not quite as potent as this year’s team’s has been. Although the Utes had Kim Turner, McKelle Stilson and Adrianne Bradley-Drake at the net, the team still did not have a player to completely diversify the attack.

Not only did they need a player to spread the attack out, but they also needed mental toughness on the squad. After losing three consecutive years in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the team needed a different mindset to lift them over the hump.

They got all those things and more as Sylva Strzinkov transferred to the U from Salt Lake Community College, and now she is leading the team to another berth in the NCAA Tournament.

The outstanding play on the court, her mental toughness and the fact that she is leading a top-25 team in kills and digs per game in her first year of Division I play have all hoisted the Utes to another level.

Strzinkov did not go down the normal road to becoming a volleyball star at the U. Studying one year of English at SLCC and then going back to her native Czech Republic was the ideal situation for Strzinkov.

However, after one year at SLCC, Ute coach Beth Launiere wanted Strzinkov to come to the U to play volleyball, and that was the beginning of a four-year experience in the state of Utah.

Strzinkov could conceivably have played one year earlier at the university, but an academic technicality delayed her arrival. “Since she had not taken the SAT, we had to wait for her to get her associates degree,” Launiere said.

After the wait was over, Strzinkov officially transferred over to the U. The biggest question for most juco players who transfer to a Division I school is how?or if?they can handle the transition. However, the issue was almost non-existent with Strzinkov.

“The transition for her has been easy, because she was already good when she came here,” Ute teammate Alisa Geddes said.

The 6-foot-1-inch outside hitter had already established herself at a high level when she played at SLCC.

“We had a very good team at the Salt Lake Community College, and that made it easier for me to come here,” Strzinkov said. The team was second in the nation on the juco level and lost in the championship game in 1998.

When she transferred to the U, Strzinkov brought something to the table that was invaluable to the team?mental toughness, a demeanor that has quickly spread to the other members of the team.

“She scared away the freshman setters before the season started because she was so tough on the court, and she was so intense,” Launiere said.

The intensity has filtered down into a team that has finally been able to finish off teams such as Colorado State and BYU.

Not only has the team benefitted from her mental toughness, but her overall skills have improved, and now she is one of the best players in the conference.

With 17 kills against Colorado State and 13 kills against BYU, Strzinkov has become the main offensive option for the Utes.

“She is physically dominant and makes our offense so potent,” Launiere said

Strzinkov had always been adept at the offensive side of the ball, but her defensive skills have risen to a new level this year, as she is leading the team in digs per game. A change in defensive position has helped Strzinkov to concentrate her skills on one area,

“I used to play middle back, however, now I play left back, which gives me a smaller but more important area where I can play better defense,” Strzinkov said.

Some skills weren’t quite developed at SLCC, but those skills have seen rapid progression at the U.

“The areas she has improved in are blocking and passing, and overall, we have seen a jump in all her skills,” Launiere said.

“She has brought tremendous versatility to the team,” Ute teammate Lenka Urbanov added.

She will need that versatility on and off the court next year when she will be the leader on the team, as captains Geddes, Bradley?Drake and Stilson will have graduated. “She will probably lead by example,” Launiere said.

However, her ability to mold players into better volleyball athletes will be the key for the Utes next year.

Former U coach Julie Morgan, who now heads up the program at SLCC, said one of Strzinkov’s greatest assets is her ability to help other players improve, as well.

“Sylva helped out this program so much; even though she did not play for me, she voluntarily helped each and every member of the team who wanted to be helped,” Morgan said.

The passion of the game is instilled in Strzinkov, and she will never settle for less then her teammates’ best.

“She will help anyone that wants to be helped?talent level does not matter?but if you are not fully into the game, then she will not help you,” Morgan said.

Her passion alone has made her one of the most valuable assets on the team and the tremendous pressure she puts on herself is the reason why she excels.

“She is mentally tough and takes the game very seriously, and she has made a very huge impact for this team,” Launiere said.

She will be the key to the team’s success in the national tournament, and if she continues to play like she has the entire year, then she is a good bet to lead this team to a level that it has never been on?even if she’s too shy to take credit for such a thing.

“I just feel that if everyone does their part, then we are a very good team, [but] we have to take the season game by game and not look ahead,” Strzinkov said.

With her determination and will to win, nobody on the team will give less than 110 percent.

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