CEDAR RAPIDS | Junior middle blocker Sydney Midlang woke up at 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday, excited.
“I haven’t been nervous; last year I was extremely nervous and then again I went into this game like I don’t want it to be my last.” Midlang said.
Midlang’s purple streak is interwoven into her two, long brown French braids. She was just feeling on Wednesday, she said; she hadn’t braided her hair since the first round of regionals.
Although Midlang is no stranger to the state court, making it back this year was triumphant after the year she’s had.
In the spring of 2016, Midlang took an unexpected fall at a club tournament in Chicago.
“I landed on a girl and tore the ligament that connects my foot to my ankle, like tore the ligament off my foot.” Midlang said.
She kept playing on it until her foot gave out just before her sophomore varsity season when she was trying to walk down the stairs.
Midlang went to the hospital, where they put her foot in a boot for a week. After a trip to the physical therapist, Midlang traveled to Iowa City for an MRI, where doctors confirmed the tear. But she played through her injury on ibuprofen and ice, aiding in the Green Devils’ trip to state last year. She had scheduled the surgery for the Wednesday after the tournament, just in case they won.
After Osage dropped its first match, Midlang had the surgery and spent three months in recovery, missing the majority of her basketball season and returning just in time for state track.
She would see very little time on the court during club volleyball, where players can advance their skills with thousands of more touches on a volleyball in the school’s offseason.
But by watching Midlang soar through the air for a block with freshman outside hitter Paige Kisley, or slam down a quick set from junior setter Rylie Olson, no one can tell the adversity she once faced.
“Isn’t it crazy,” head coach Andie Olson said. “If you really think about it, she has a synthetic piece in her ankle and what she can do is just amazing.”
Midlang stands tall at 5-foot-11, but her footwork is so fast it’s automatic and her vertical makes for a threatening block. A lot of that is because of the work off the court.
Coach Olson starts her athletes in an offseason training program young, so the girls are lifting weights as early as sixth grade and plyometrics are drilled so they can learn the motions. It’s no surprise that Midlang’s health and conditioning has kept her on pace.
Midlang racked up 10 kills, one assisted block and five digs in the match against Tipton. The first set wasn’t shaky, Midlang put down three kills, but Olson knew mid-way through the second set that she was capable of more.
“I told her, ‘It’s your time to shine, it’s your turn, you can do this. We’ve set this up for you at this moment,’” Olson said. “Because we were going outside quite a bit. We were kind of starting to run the slide, then we knew we were going to start pushing the middle.”
Olson describes the first set’s collection of kills as good, but not “normal Sydney kills.” In the second set, Midlang started pounding the floor in and around the block and by the time the third set came around, the Tipton Tigers were exhausted.
“We are a power team, we swing, we don’t tip and I actually said in a timeout in set three, ‘You’re going to wear them down,’” Olson said. “There were times where we pounded it and they pounded back, and we pounded it and they couldn’t get it back and I turned to my young kids on the bench and say, ‘Do you see what I’m talking about?’ You can only dig a ball so many times, it wears them out.”
Ask Midlang about overcoming the injury this past year and she just shrugs her shoulders.
“You know, I don’t even know,” Midlang said. “To make it back to state, it’s amazing, this is the group girls I know we can win, if we play our best we know we can be state champs.”