Taylor volleyball is reaching heights they have not achieved in years. The Trojans sit atop the Crossroads League standings with a 14-2 conference record. They are finishing the year undefeated at home (13-0). They are ranked No. 11 in the nation, a feat not accomplished in over a decade.
The team has repeatedly spoken about their chemistry and trust in each other, but every team needs leaders. Fifth-year senior Ryan Czerniak is one of the most impactful role models for this year’s Taylor squad.
From Danville, Indiana, a relaxed and confident Czerniak didn’t even have to play for the Trojans this year. As a fifth-year senior, she could’ve ended her college story — but she decided to return. Because of COVID-19 canceled or delayed seasons, players were allowed to return for a fifth season, so after 2020, Czerniak considered the prospect with prayer.
“Something that I had been praying about,” she said, “‘Lord if you want me back here, make it so evidently clear,’ and he did. I never thought I would be back here (if you asked her) as a freshman … now I'm a grandma on the team, and I get to love on these … freshmen, these transfers that I wouldn't have had last year.”
Coming back has turned out to be a brilliant decision for Czerniak — she is having a career season. For the second year in a row, she’s started every match she’s played. Her spike is devastating — her arm, a cannon that fires with breathtaking speed. She’s already set career highs in kills, kills per set, total blocks and kill percentage before even reaching the conference tournament.
Her stats aren’t just personal records; she’s one of the best players in the entire NAIA. She is an offensive powerhouse, ranked (at the time of writing) 22nd in kills per set (3.79), 13th in kills (375) and she is far and away the leader in kill percentage (.411). If she so much as touches the volleyball, if you’re on the opposing side, you might as well go ahead and give her the point.
But to Ryan, the stats don’t matter that much.
She said, “I think in years past it's been ‘look at the stats and see what the stats say,’” but this year she reminds herself “‘Ryan, you didn't come here for stats.’ I'm playing with so much freedom and joy because I simply love the game. It's cool to see that I'm accomplishing these things. But at the same time, that doesn't ultimately matter to me.”
Her leadership and example reverberate throughout the entire team on and off the court.
Her head coach, Erin Luthy, described Ryan as a “humble and servant-hearted leader of our team … always willing to go above and beyond to give her absolute best on and off the court. She trusted the Lord’s calling to come back and lead this team in incredible ways this season.”
Fellow fifth-year senior Nikki Parrett described Ryan as a close friend who leaves an impact whether she’s spiking volleyballs or talking with teammates. “She has such a big presence on the team that makes everyone calm and confident; she is … an amazing teammate and friend … an amazing prayer warrior, and I couldn't thank God more for having her in my life and getting a bonus year with her.”
As the Trojans prepare for their run at the Crossroads League tournament and the goal of reaching the national tournament, the team knows who they rally behind. The Trojans will follow the lead of their league-leading, cold-blooded spiking machine, servant-leader, prayer warrior, teammate and friend: Ryan Czerniak.