Despite a strange beginning, UND's Griffin has paved new roads for volleyball program
GRAND FORKS — University of North Dakota senior setter Sydney Griffin wasn't sure she had a spot on the roster four years ago.
She had signed a National Letter of Intent to play in Grand Forks, but an abrupt coaching change was cause for panic.
"I remember it being stressful," Griffin said. "I found out on Twitter that (former coach Ashley Hardee) had resigned. I know I freaked out to my parents at first."
But UND's next coach, Mark Pryor, didn't take long to determine he wanted the inherited recruit.
And Griffin's decision to stick with her commitment helped produce back-to-back Big Sky Conference tournament championships.
UND (30-7) will play Minnesota for the second consecutive season in a first-round NCAA tournament game at 7 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 1, in Minneapolis.
The match can be streamed online at GopherSports.com or fans can listen on the radio locally at 1440 AM.
"I told my parents that I still wanted to go there, but I don't know if they still want me," Griffin said.
Pryor called each of his signees and Griffin recalls the conversation. She said Pryor's first words to her were that he was letting go of another recruit and that didn't calm her nerves.
"But he came and watched a club tournament, saw me set a few balls and it was a done deal," said Griffin, who said her club coaches asked if she wanted to reopen her recruiting process. "I'm glad I kept with my decision."
So is UND. This season, Griffin became the fourth UND player all-time to reach 4,000 career assists and is now in third place (4,204).
Her 1,408 assists this season are fourth-most in the NCAA.
Griffin was UND's first Division I All-American and was the 2016 Big Sky Most Valuable Player.
"In my four years in the Big Sky, I'm not sure there's been as dynamic or athletic of a setter than Sydney," Pryor said. "There might be some that do this or that better, but I think even the other coaches would gladly tell you she's the most athletic and dynamic."
The Marshall (Minn.) High School graduate was born in Salinas, Kan., then moved to Minneapolis when Griffin was in elementary school. Her mom, Kristy, attended graduate school at the University of Minnesota.
After a few years in Minneapolis, where she often attended Gophers volleyball matches, Griffin's family moved to Lynd, Minn., a town of about 450 people 7 miles from Marshall.
In Lynd, in southwest Minnesota, UND recruited Griffin.
Her strength, Pryor said, is that she's competitive but in a collaborative way.
"It's not, 'I'm going to be better than you,' " he said. "It's, 'I'm going to make my teammates better.' "
At a season-ending meeting following Griffin's true freshman season in which she played sparingly behind veteran setter Nikki Husfeldt, Pryor told Griffin she could be an All-American.
"She took offense to that," Pryor said. "She said it should be about the team. She's so about the team it's unreal."
Pryor called Griffin "the glue" of a leadership group and Griffin said her role in that department is part of a good cop-bad cop tandem with standout middle hitter Faith Dooley.
"Faith might get on someone, and I might come over and put my arm around them ... I have a more soft, goofy side," Griffin said.
That's how teammate Julia Kaczorowska sees it, too.
"She can be serious, but she can be a goofball," the senior hitter said. "She's a great player. We're on the same level as far as our love for volleyball and each other."
UND at Minnesota
• When: 7 p.m. Friday.
• Where: Maturi Pavilion, Minneapolis.
• Radio: 1440 AM.
• Records: UND 30-7; Minnesota .
• Of note: North Dakota paces all NCAA Division I schools with 2,484 digs. The Fighting Hawks also rank second in blocks (363.5) and third in kills (1,820).