CNY Spotlight Athlete of the Week: Tully Volleyball Player Emma Byrne (video) – Archyde

SYRACUSE, NY — Tully volleyball player Emma Byrne has tons of energy, and she’s generous in sharing it among her teammates.

Of course, Jeremy Cook, the Black Knights coach, is pleased with one caveat. Cook advises caution for fellow players who are asked to do a little extra work with their senior star.

Byrne recovers from bonus running and/or weightlifting with barely a blink. But the teammates who ride along often don’t know exactly what’s in store for them, and occasionally return to training the next day sore and slow.

“The trainer always tells us, he says, ‘If you haven’t gone jogging or lifted weights lately and Emma asks you to, don’t go. You’re going to get hurt,'” Byrne said. “I’m definitely the person on the team who says, ‘Okay, let’s go for a run.’ Let’s go train.’ I wouldn’t say they get too sore the next day. They can always work. But I definitely want the best for everyone. I will definitely not allow our team to slip away and settle down where we are. I think we should keep getting better.”

The fruits of this philosophy are readily apparent.

After a 0-11 season last year that ended without a playoff because of Covid, the Black Knights got off to a 14-0 start this winter. Byrne is the engine of the team with 168 kills and 131 digs. Her all-around brilliance for Tully has earned her recognition as Spotlight Athlete of the Week on

“I know people say that all the time, but she’s the best kind of kid to train. She’s so intrinsically motivated,” Cook said. “It’s quite an amazing effect. I’ve never trained anyone like her.”

If Byrne’s sporting life were any more hectic, she would need to eat her meals between practice and games. She is a four-sport athlete at school, having competed in soccer, volleyball and on the outdoor track for the past two seasons. Before taking up the latter sport, Byrne played varsity lacrosse.

“Right now I would say volleyball (is her favourite). But football is really a top contender. I’m kind of focused on the sport I’m doing right now,” she said

Even the frostiest weather won’t freeze them out. She is an excellent skier and when that option is not available she keeps warm by ice skating, sledding or pond hockey. All sports are fun, but Byrne’s competitive side is also a big shadow.

“I’ve always been a little philistine. I’ve always wanted a little something extra. I love winning but I really, really, really hate losing,” she said. “When something isn’t going the way I want it to, when something isn’t going our way for the team, it kind of flips the knot and it’s like it’s game time, come on, step it up. It’s like the drive in me never to lose.”

Byrne’s role on the team has expanded over the past two seasons. She initially filled the setter position, but Cook switched her to the batsman position mid-last year due to her strength. Her thorough understanding of the nuances of the sport was invaluable to the coach. Cook said he was sometimes on the verge of taking time off to review strategy, but instead backed down when he saw Byrne gathering teammates for quick chats between points.

“Your skills are unique,” Cook said.

“Volleyball has a lot to do with instincts,” Byrne said. “It’s really fast. You have to be in the right place at the right time. I learned a lot about reading people’s shoulders. This allows you to see when people are about to hit the ball across the court or line. So you just have to move there and then just go with your gut and dive for the ball or just touch it. Hope it’s the best you can do.”

The Black Knights need their momentum from two seasons at full power over the next few weeks. Her win streak makes her the default for all enemies. And because Covid canceled the playoffs last winter, the team has nothing definitive to show for all its excellence.

“I still play every game like it’s the Covid season we had a few years ago where it’s like you don’t know if you’re going to play. You don’t know if this is the last game, the last training session. I feel like I just take everything in the moment so I can experience it right then,” Byrne said. “It’s definitely a lot of pressure. It forces that goal on our backs, so other schools say let’s be the one to take Tully down. I think it just forces us to do our best in every single game, which is honestly better because I think we work really well under pressure.

Byrne has another reason to push her boundaries. Her career as a competitive athlete is only a few months away from the end.

Byrne wants to be a physical therapist, and the colleges she’s interested in – Miami and North Carolina, for example – have athletic programs that compete at a higher level than she realistically allows. She hopes to play club sports wherever she lands, but knows it won’t be the same as sweating it out with scholastic teammates.

“It will definitely be super difficult to give up (competitive) sport. And I know I’m not going to be someone who just quits the sport for the rest of my life,” she said. “I would like to play club sports in college. And even beyond that, I would like to be a coach. I would love to take my experience and bring it back and help younger children. And even by working in the PT, you get to work with a lot of athletes. There are many opportunities to work in such gyms. So I’m definitely going to incorporate that into my career.”

Contact Lindsay Kramer anytime: email | Twitter


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