Syracuse, NY — Tully volleyball player Emma Byrne has a lot of energy and is generous in sharing it with her teammates.
That pleases Black Knights coach Jeremy Cook, of course, with one caveat. Cook recommends that fellow players be invited to do some extra work with their senior star.
Byrne bounces back from the bonus run and/or weightlifting with no wink. But the fellow players who go along often don’t fully realize where they stand, and occasionally show up painful and slow to practice the next day.
“The coach always tells us, he says, ‘If you haven’t run lately or if you haven’t lifted weights, and Emma asks you to, don’t go. You’ll get hurt,'” said Byrne. “I’m definitely the person on the team who says, ‘Okay, let’s go for a run.’ Let’s play sports.’ I wouldn’t say they get too sore the next day. They can always function. But I definitely want the best for everyone. I’m definitely not going to let our team slide and settle where we are. I think we always have to get better.”
That the fruits of that philosophy are evident.
After an 11-0 season last year that ended with no playoffs due to Covid, the Black Knights ripped off a 14-0 start this winter. Byrne is the engine of the team, with 168 kills and 131 digs. Her overall brilliance for Tully has earned her recognition as the Spotlight of the Week on Syracuse.com.
“I know people say this all the time, but she’s the best kid to coach. She’s so intrinsically motivated,” Cook said. “It’s a pretty amazing effect. I’ve never coached someone like her.”
If Byrne’s athletic life were even more hectic, she would have to eat her meals during training and competition time-outs. She is a four-sport athlete at the school and has competed in soccer, volleyball and outdoor sports for the past two seasons. Before starting the latter sport, Byrne played varsity lacrosse.
“Right now I would have to say volleyball (her favorite is). But football really is a top candidate. I’m kinda preoccupied with whatever sport I’m doing right now,” she said
Even the most icy weather does not freeze her. She’s an excellent skier, and when that option isn’t available, she keeps warm by skating, sledding, or playing pond hockey. All sports are fun, but Byrne’s competitive side is also a big shadow.
“I’ve always been a bit of a striker. I’ve always wanted it a little extra. I love winning, but I really hate losing,” she said. “If something doesn’t go the way I want it to, if something doesn’t go our way for the team, it kind of tangles and is it’s like it’s game time, come on, amplify it. It’s like the drive in me to never lose.”
Byrne’s role in the team has expanded over the past two seasons. She initially filled the position of setter, but Cook switched her to batter in the middle of last year because of her power. Her general understanding of the nuances of the sport has been invaluable to the coach. Cook said he is sometimes on the brink of giving time outs to review strategy, but instead pulls back when he sees Byrne gathering teammates for quick conversations between points.
“It’s a very unique skill set that she has,” Cook said.
“Volleyball is a lot about instincts,” Byrne said. “It’s really fast. You have to be in the right place at the right time. I learned a lot how to read people’s shoulders. So you can see when people are going to hit the ball cross court or line. So you just have to go there and then just trust your gut and dive for the ball or just touch it. Hopefully this is the best (game) you can make.”
The Black Knights will need their two-season momentum at full throttle over the next few weeks. Their winning streak makes them the standard for all enemies. And with Covid canceling the playoffs last winter, the team has nothing final to show for all its excellence.
“I still play every game like it was the Covid season we had a few years ago where it’s like you don’t know if you’re going to play. You don’t know if this is the last game, the last practice. I feel like I just take it all in the moment so I can experience it in that moment,” Byrne said. who take Tully down. I think it just forces us to give our best in every game, which is honestly better because I think we work really well under pressure.”
Byrne has another reason to push her limits. Her competitive athletic career will not come to an end for a few months.
Byrne wants to be a physical therapist, and the colleges she’s interested in — Miami and North Carolina, for example — have athletic programs that compete at a higher level than she would realistically fit in. She hopes to play club sports wherever she lands, but she knows it won’t be the same as sweating it out with college teammates.
“It is definitely going to be super hard to give up (competitive) sports. And I know I won’t be one to give up sports for the rest of my life,” she said. “I’d love to play a club sport in college. And even after that I’d love to be a coach someday. take and bring back and help younger kids. And even by working in PT you can work with a lot of athletes. There are a lot of opportunities to work in such gyms. So I’m definitely going to take that into my career.”
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