Like mother, like daughter

Sandra Sydlik gets her ability on the court from her Olympian mother.

Sandra Sydlik prepares to serve the ball during the Owls’ 3-0 win against Montana. | Evan Easterling TTN
Sandra Sydlik prepares to serve the ball during the Owls’ 3-0 win against Montana. | Evan Easterling TTN

When Sandra Sydlik takes the court, her mother, Kathrin, watches from more than 4,000 miles away on a computer in Berlin, Germany.

Despite a six-hour time difference, the 1988 East Germany Olympic volleyball player watches her daughter whenever she can.

“Sometimes my mom doesn’t know when I have a game, sometimes we are so far from each other,” Sydlik said. “Games will be in the middle of the night and she will try to stay awake.”

Kathrin represented East Germany at the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea and traveled to different countries all over the world. The Berlin Wall separated Germany during that time, only to be taken down a year later.

“No one was allowed to leave the communist area and my mom was when she went to the U.S.  and played,” the senior setter said. “My dad was not an athlete, and was just in Berlin because he could not travel with my mom.”

Last season, Sydlik was the American Athletic Conference setter of the year after tallying 1,203 assists, the most in school history since 2008. Sydlik also ranks 10th in assists in program history with 2,172.

After 14 games this season, Sydlik has totaled 536 assists, averaging 11.40  per set.

Although Kathrin was a stand-out player in Germany, she never pushed volleyball on Sandra or her younger sister Luisa, who will play for Hofstra University next fall.

“It wasn’t really talked about, I mean I knew she played for our country,” Sydlik said. Her mother told her “If you want to play volleyball, you can go try.”

The Sydlik name is well-known in the German volleyball community. Freshman middle blocker Carla Guennewig, who is from Munster, Germany, was familiar with the last name before arriving on Main Campus.

“I heard of her mother before,” Guennewig said. “She told me about it, but I knew her sister before too. She is my age and we played against each other in club.”

Sydlik began playing volleyball as a nine-year-old in Germany, but said she did not start taking the sport seriously until she was 13.

The Owls’ setter said Kathrin offers advice after games, but her mother lets her learn from her own experiences.

“She never critiques me,” Sydlik said. “She keeps that really separate. She will tell you, like, ‘That was not your best game,’ but she would never say anything specific.”

During her summer break in Germany, the senior captain played beach volleyball once a week with her 48-year-old mother and her mother’s former Olympic teammates at a sports center in Berlin.

“They have the eye,” Sydlik said. “They feel like they can’t do something anymore and they get all angry and I am like ‘relax.’ I am just running the whole time.”

Although her mother continues to play with former Olympic teammates, Sydlik said this will probably be her last season of competitive volleyball.

“I love volleyball, it is my passion,” she said. “I can’t see myself playing like my mom.”

Connor Northrup can be reached at

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