Story and photos by Kurt Johnson
The 2014 season was a wild ride for the Lehi High softball team, and when it came to an end, sophomore Sydney White was standing in the pitcher’s circle for a 5A state championship team.
A year before, White had shared a deep tournament run, as a freshman teammate to her sister, Carley, who was then a Pioneer senior. Sydney is the fourth child from the White family to represent Lehi as a student-athlete and clearly the family name is in good hands.
“I think it did give me an advantage (following older siblings) because my older sisters have gone through so many things that I’ve had to go through,” Sydney said. “The advice they give me, they know so much about the game because of all the years they’ve played it and what they’ve had to go through.
“My older brother, Riley, is my summer ball coach and my hitting coach. My older sister, Carley, she’s playing at CSI right now and she’s helped me a lot. We’re actually going to go to college together (at Weber State), so that will be really fun.”
That will happen in 2017, when Carley, who is headed to Weber after finishing her two years at College of Southern Idaho, will be a senior and Sydney will arrive on the Ogden campus as a freshman. Both have already committed to play for the Wildcats.
“It’s just that feeling you get when something’s right,” Sydney said. “I went on a visit there and it just felt right to me. I know some girls going there as well, and my sister’s going there, and that helps.”
It will be the first time they will be on the field together since the state tournament run ended in the semifinals, a year before the Pioneers won it all. With Carley in center field, Sydney enjoyed direct interaction with her sister as the freshman pitcher took the ball for Lehi.
“It was way fun, but we did have our sister moments, of course,” Sydney said. “If I was on the mound and there was a ball that I thought maybe Carley could catch in center field, maybe I’d say something to her, and then she’d put me in my place as a big sister. It was fun.”
Sydney and Carley share a passion for two sports, as both also starred for the Pioneer volleyball team. Their older sister, Allie, also played the same two sports, but while the younger two leaned more towards the diamond, Allie was more partial to the court.
Sydney has enjoyed huge success on the softball field, earning second-team all-state honors as a freshman before being named 5A MVP a year ago, to close out that sophomore campaign. Volleyball may be second on her list, but that has not hindered her, despite a height that makes her an ideal fit for just one position – libero. The junior was second-team all-state this past volleyball season.
Since her focus in terms of playing at the next level centers around softball, Sydney looks at the sports differently, and finds a sort of respite on the volleyball court.
“Softball is something that I feel like I should be better at, because I’m going to play that sport in college, so I should be better at that sport,” Sydney said. “With volleyball, it’s kind of just relaxed in the expectations I set for myself. I feel like I can just be more chill. I don’t have as many things to worry about in volleyball. I just try to do the best I can, and if it doesn’t work out, that’s okay. Volleyball is definitely a nice break from softball.
“Softball’s always been what I’ve preferred to do, like in college, but volleyball is just so fun for me. I do that for the thrill and the fast game and just for fun.”
But there is no doubt that both sports have already delivered memorable moments, with more to come. The biggest success has come on the softball field, but, for Sydney, nothing beats the atmosphere of the state volleyball tournament.
“Last year, taking state in softball, that was an amazing day,” Sydney said. “Nothing beats state volleyball, our crowd and being in those games. That’s something I’ll never forget, just being able to be a part of that game.
“I love all the chaos that’s going on. I love the giant crowd. I love that I can’t hear anybody yelling at me but the person that’s two feet away from me. I like that chaos. Maybe someone else would like the more calm softball game, but I don’ t think anything beats state volleyball and I just loved being a part of it.”
For now, however, there is a season for everything and this is the time for Sydney and her Pioneer teammates to pursue a repeat state championship. To do so will not be an easy task. There are a number of teams who can win it all, and one of them, Herriman, handled Lehi twice in region play.
This year, Sydney is splitting her time between pitching and playing shortstop, and she’s fine with both.
“I just want to win, so wherever they need me, the best position I’m needed in, that’s where I want to play,” Sydney said. “Wherever I’m needed most to win is where I’ll play – if that’s pitching, if that’s defense at short, I just want to win. It doesn’t matter to me.”
So what is Sydney’s greatest strength as a softball player?
“I think my game is just all-around,” she said. “I wouldn’t say I’m a dominant pitcher or like a dominant home run hitter or anything like that. I think my thing is that I can compete no matter where I’m put or what place in the line-up I’m in.”
And some advice from her sister about pitching serves her well no matter what position she is playing. There are some things you can control, and that’s where Sydney White focuses her attention, as a pitcher and anywhere else.
“My older sister always told me to, ‘Just do you”, so just be me, so I try not to put too much pressure on myself,” Sydney said. “My thing is I’m not a strikeout pitcher, I pitch to defense, so I try to get girls to hit a ground ball or get them to pop up. I try to let my defense help me.”
New Challenges in 2015
Last year, that strategy was good enough to lead her team to the top spot in Class 5A softball. This season’s story is still be written, but it has included some new challenges and new opportunities for White and her Pioneer teammates.
In November, one of those teammates, Stefani Zimmerman, and her family experienced tragedy when her sister Taylor died tragically in a car accident. White says that the team has come together around Stefani as it prepared for this season, and now as the season plays out.
“I think that honestly, it’s brought us closer,” Sydney said. “For me personally, I have an older sister that’s the same age as Taylor, so we all just have to come together and help Stef and help Megan. I think it gives Stef and Megan something to play for, and we want to be there for Stef, so I think it’s brought us closer overall.”
A coaching change has also impacted the way White and her teammates are used from game to game, and that has required some adjusting. White now finds herself sharing more of the pitching duties with Zimmerman and playing more at shortstop.
“Last year, we did have a one and two thing, and I was the No. 1 and Stef was No. 2, but this year they’re trying to even it out a little more,” Sydney said. “I think the coaches are trying to decide…or the opponent is who decides, so they go with who they think would be the best against that certain team.
“I think it’s a little different just because last year, we had a set line-up very early in the season and not very much changed throughout the year, so everybody was very comfortable where they were. This year, they like to switch things up a little bit, so that’s a little different. Last year, we knew exactly what we were doing and this year, a few things change every now and then.”
In the end, it’s all about results, and Lehi arrives at the postseason in position to defend its state title. Interestingly, at least coming from a pitcher, White says postseason success might depend on what happens in the batter’s box.
“I feel like when we hit, we’re hard to beat, but when we don’t, that’s hard,” Sydney said. “In the Riverton game at Lehi, we started off hitting and that was great. Even if Riverton came back, we knew we would win that game. In both Herriman games, we only scored one run, and one run isn’t going to beat a team like Herriman. I feel like hitting and scoring more runs is going to be key to us.”