I have a soft spot in my heart for Stacy Sykora for two important reasons: she is an amazing libero (I trained as a defensive specialist early in my career) and she is from Texas (just like yours truly).
While attending Texas A&M University she repeated led the team in both digs and kills, setting a school record of 24 digs in a three game loss to Michigan State her sophomore year. As a freshman she played every game on the schedule except one, and by the time she was a senior she was 9th in the nation in digs per game (4.37). The American Volleyball Coaches Association named her to a Second-Team All American her senior year, and she was also on the All Big 12 Team that year.
After graduation her coach Laurie Flachmeier Corbelli, an Olympic silver medalist on the 1984 women’s volleyball team, suggested that Sykora try out for the newly-created position of libero on the US National team. Sykora took Corbelli’s advice, and in 1999 she joined the National team.
By the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney Sykora was leading the team in digs; she posted her 1,000th career dig during the bronze medal match against Brazil. In 2001 she earned the Best Libero Award at the Montreux Volley Masters, was named the Best Digger at both the World Grand Prix and the World Grand Champions Cup, and earned the Best Receiver award at the NORCECA Championships.
Her performance continued to be stellar over the next several seasons. In 2002 she played professionally in Italy; in 2003 she led the US National team in digs (533) and digs per set (3.46), and finished sixth on the team with 89 total points in 11 matches (85 kills, 3 blocks, 1 ace). Despite a strong 2004 season and a number one seed coming into the Olympics, the women’s team performed poorly in Athens. They finished tied for fifth, but Sykora was nonetheless named Best Libero at the Olympic games.
After Athens Sykora left the national team, but three years later she was once again named to the 12-person squad and continues to make liberos look cool.
For more information, check out USAVolleyball.org.