“There’s a lot more than just coaching; there’s administrative hat, there’s a mental health hat, there’s the academic hat, right? There’s the culture hat,” said Cheatham-Carlone.
Sydney Cheatham-Carlone: A New Era for North Central College Volleyball
Being a first-year head coach with 30 players on your roster is challenging, especially when coaching in your hometown. That’s the task at hand for North Central College Women’s Volleyball Coach Sydney Cheatham-Carlone.
Cheatham-Carlone played high school volleyball just down the road at Naperville North before attending Western Michigan in Kalamazoo, where she was a student-athlete playing volleyball and studying nursing. She then returned to Naperville as the Graduate assistant coach for North Central. After taking over the program’s helm from Kyle Exline this fall, Coach Syd, as her players call her, is laying the foundation brick by brick.
“I think when you’re working with female players, the biggest thing is you want to build trust and build bonds before you start trying to build a winning program, right? So that was at the forefront of what I wanted to do, is making sure that I was building the trust and the bonds first and that family atmosphere before we tried to even talk about winning and building a winning culture,” said Cheatham-Carlone.
One of the unique ways Cheatham-Carlone and the Cardinals signify the team’s unity is with a team hand gesture. Recognized wildly as the ‘I love you’ sign in sign language, it also symbolizes Coach Syd’s philosophy.
“It kind of just came from my dad and a couple of family members that have influenced me with love. We established the meaning of love, right? It holds our values, communication, ambition, and trust. So, we were able to establish that right from the get-go.” said Cheatham-Carlone.
Building Trust and Unity is Coach Syd’s Approach to Winning
Trust and transparency are the building blocks of any winning team. As a coach, you need players to implement your philosophy on the court. That’s where senior co-captains Taylor O’Malley and Kendall Krueger come into play. In addition to their stellar performances on the court, their leadership qualities help the team practice what they preach. As a Neuqua Valley graduate, O’Malley can also relate to her head coach’s excitement about competing for her hometown school.
“Tay has always been an enthusiastic find, like just, you know, in the moment type of gal, and, you know, she’s definitely someone that is a contagious energy,” said Cheatham-Carlone.
“She’s definitely instilled. I think this all-in, hard-work kind of mentality, and it was from even preseason that we started getting into it, and a lot of acronyms that we stand by will have them in the locker room up on our whiteboards at practice. So, just remembering why we’re here, remembering that we play here for each other, and it’s all about love, communication, passion,” said North Central volleyball player Taylor O’Malley.
“As a team, we want to constantly be getting better, but she’s always asking for feedback on her as well, and it’s what do you guys need from me? And kind of looking at her own coaching strategies, reflecting and being like, okay, this worked, or this didn’t work, and how are we going to keep progressing as a program?” said North Central volleyball player Kendall Krueger.
Cardinals’ aiming high for NCAA Tournament Success
Cheatham-Carlone isn’t entirely new to the structure that is the Cardinal program. The Naperville native was the interim head coach for the men’s and women’s teams during the 2021 season, earning the NCAA Division III Men’s Volleyball National Assistant Coach of the Year by the American Volleyball Coaches Association. With a more-than-promising head coach and a roster full of potential, the Cardinals are confident they can soar to new heights.
“Our expectation is to be in the tournament. We have the talent to do so, and it’s just about executing and taking care of business, and the aspiration would be to make the NCAA tournament,” said Cheatham-Carlone.
“We always talk about the possibility of a national tournament, but I think this year that’s something that’s really tangible for us, and if we play our game every single game, I think that’s something that could be in our future, and I’m really, really excited for it,” said Krueger.
Undoubtedly, the Cardinals have set high expectations for the rest of the season. While It’s impossible to determine the team’s future fate, what is certain is that their culture will be at the core of their success, cultivated over time by a team that measures success by more than wins and losses.
“I’m excited to see everything accumulate over time, and all the pictures stack up and be like, Wow, Like, you know, this is what this year was about, and it was just about us and doing it for them, which is the alumni for each other and families, and parents, loved ones,” said Cheatham-Carlone.
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