Updated: Oct 7
On the volleyball court, junior Sydney Willis terrorizes opposing teams with her blocking ability.
Off the court, she is a gifted singer and sang the national anthem on two separate occasions.
Willis, a native of Tennessee, was intrigued by the idea of going far away for college. But she decided to attend Belmont in order to stay close to family.
And in the end, she was glad she made the decision.
“My parents know me better than I know myself sometimes, and they were like ‘you’re going to start missing us and your brother,’” Willis said. “It was true, so I love staying home. I came here because it was close to home.”
Once Willis stepped onto the court for the volleyball team, she instantly made an impact for the Bruins.
And Willis’ journey to joining the team is quite different than some other recruits.
“We were visiting campus, not on a scheduled visit, and my dad was like ‘hey, we should see if the volleyball coach is in here.’ So, he went up to her office and was like ‘hey, can I see coach Katelyn Harrison?’” Willis said.
Once she met Harrison, Willis knew Belmont was the place for her.
“She was so friendly. She believed in me as did some of my teammates, and that’s what led me here,” Willis said.
Her love for music comes from singing at Salem Missionary Baptist Church, where her father has been a pastor for 16 years. During the offseason, Willis sings in the church’s choir, and occasionally leads the congregation in worship.
Word of her talent began to spread throughout the team and for the 2021 senior night, the players had one request.
They wanted Willis to sing the national anthem.
“I was like ‘I’m only going to do it for y’all. This is the only time I’m doing it,’” Willis said. “I did it for them because it was senior night, and we had four seniors.”
After that experience, Willis thought she would never sing the "Star Spangled Banner” again until technical difficulties surfaced before the Bruins’ match at Washington State University on Sept. 2.
Scrambling for a replacement, her teammates, yet again, volunteered her to sing.
According to head coach Katelyn Harrison, Sydney was the only option.
“I have one really good singer on my team,” Harrison said in a press conference. “I have some horrible singers on my team. If they can sing, they’ve hidden it from me pretty well.”
Although Willis gets bouts of stage fright, she knows her teammates are always there to support her.
“They try to push me out of my comfort zone, which I love,” Willis said. “My teammates were singing with me on that away game. I knew they had my back like they usually do.”
Willis sees her teammates as sisters.
“That’s what I was looking for when I came to them, and that’s what I found. I’m blessed that I did because a lot of people don’t find that,” Willis said.
Willis is unsure if she will sing the national anthem again during her time at Belmont.
But if she does, she knows that her teammates will be there to support her.
PHOTO Sydney Willis sings the National Anthem at Washington State University on Sept. 2. Ashley Davis/Belmont Athletics
This article was written by Ty Wellemeyer