As a redshirt freshman in 2015 after transferring from Chico State, 6-foot-8 Tanner Syftestad was the only UC San Diego men's volleyball player to start all 28 matches, led the club in kills, total blocks and aces, and was second in the digs category. Even given those impressive accomplishments, 11th-year head coach Kevin Ring expects more from the Carmichael native in 2016. "Tanner gained a great deal of experience and insight as to what it takes to be an MPSF-caliber opposite match after match," said Ring. "Although we want to get all of our attackers involved offensively, we will certainly look for him to carry a heavy load, and I feel he can develop into a 'go-to' attacker. Tanner was voted one of our co-captains, so we'll be looking to him for leadership as well." With the start of his sophomore season on the immediate horizon this Friday night (Jan. 8, 7 p.m. inside RIMAC Arena), Syftestad spent time recently talking about his introduction to the sport of volleyball, developing an on-court connection with his setter, and prospects for the 2016 Tritons.
Q: Syftestad-an interesting and unusual surname. What type of family background do you have, and how often do people have difficulty with the pronunciation and spelling?
SYFTESTAD: I am mainly Norwegian and Swedish. Syftestad is a Norwegian last name (and was spelled Søftestad before my family immigrated in 1850). People have trouble pronouncing it a lot. I've been a competitive swimmer since I was five years old and during swim championships, they announce your name before the race starts. So, for about 13 years, my name has been butchered over and over again. Some people would just say my first name and mumble out something for my last name.
Q: How did you get introduced to the sport of volleyball? What other sports did you play along the way and what led you to making volleyball your competitive focal point?
SYFTESTAD: I was introduced by my family when I was in sixth grade. My sister would make me pepper with her because she was on our high school team. Also during the holidays, my uncle would switch his batting cage to a volleyball court while we were having family gatherings. It was small, but it worked and we would play for a couple hours sometimes. Before volleyball I played soccer, basketball, baseball, football, water polo and also swam. Volleyball was the most fun I had playing any of those sports, and I decided to continue with it and join our local club team.
Q: Coming to campus as a redshirt freshman last year, what was a tougher transition, Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) volleyball, or the UCSD academic regimen?
SYFTESTAD: UCSD academics. No question. When I came to this school, I knew I wanted to play MPSF volleyball, but I had no idea what I wanted to do major-wise, so I wasn't very focused on my academics.
Q: At 6-foot-8, do you ever get questions from strangers about your height? Like what?
SYFTESTAD: Oh yes. Most of the time, it's people asking how tall I am. I've had people ask me if I'm 7'0" before, but a lot of people ask if I'm 6'5" and how their son or grandson is 6'5" but doesn't look as tall as me. There was a huge growth spurt in high school. I started freshman year at 5'7" and graduated at 6'7". My dad grew 10 inches in high school and my grandfather grew a foot in high school as well.
Q: What gives you more satisfaction on the volleyball court? A big kill, a solo stuff block, or a clean ace? Why?
SYFTESTAD: Definitely a big solo stuff block. Any other time in volleyball, you're usually relying on a teammate or working with one to produce a point for your team. When it's a solo block, it is just you against the other player. It can really put a dent in a player's confidence for the rest of the game.
Q: You had an excellent first season at UCSD, leading the Tritons in both kills (241) and total blocks (75). What do you consider your best skill, and what area would you most like to see improved in 2016?
SYFTESTAD: I don't think I have a best skill yet, but that is something I am working on. Last year was my first year playing only opposite. I played libero, a little bit of outside, but primarily setter in high school and club, so at this point, I'd really like to improve my hitting percentage as well as my defense. An opposite's main job is get kills for the team, so that's a high priority for me.
Q: Freshman (now sophomore) Milosh Stojcic was UCSD's primary setter last season. What's it like trying to develop timing and rhythm with your setter, and how would you characterize your on-court chemistry with Stojcic?
SYFTESTAD: Practice, practice, practice. We do a lot of repetition and hitting lines. I think Milosh and I are great friends off the court and that really helps us when we're on the court.
Q: As a group, your team was very young and relatively inexperienced in 2015. Talk about the growth process and where you felt your team was at the end of 2015 compared to the beginning. During the time you've spent together in the gym this fall, do you see progress, and if so, where?
SYFTESTAD: We had a lot of young players who got to experience the MPSF straight out of high school which I think is rare among teams in the league. This allowed us to learn to adapt and also to develop quickly so by the end of the season we were more confident on the court. This fall, I see more returners, which is nice because we already have the camaraderie, from playing together all last year, to go along with the experience.
Q: At the tail end of fall training, Coach Ring had the team spend an afternoon on the UCSD Challenge (ropes) Course. What was that like, and how do you feel an experience like that can benefit the team during the upcoming season?
SYFTESTAD: It was really fun. I think it was a way for us to know that we have each other's backs because a lot of the exercises we did together required us to support one another. For example, we had to cross wires but creating what was like a human chain and there were obstacles on the course that the team had to maneuver around. It can benefit us this year because it shows that it's a lot harder to reach your goal as an individual than it is as a team.
Q: Where do you feel the on-court leadership will come from on this year's club?
SYFTESTAD: I think everybody on the court will provide some leadership this year. I really can't narrow it down to a few people. A lot of guys step up during practice to lead, and we can all rely on each other consistently.
Q: What inspired you to choose anthropology (archeology) as a major? What's been the most interesting aspect in your studies to date, and what do you hope to do with your degree?
SYFTESTAD: It is very interesting to me, learning about past civilizations and their cultures. Over the summer I was fortunate enough to spend a month in Peru studying under a resident professor. I had never been outside the country before, so it was eye-opening to be in a place where there wasn't always Internet or potable water or fresh fruit and vegetables available. When I graduate, I hope to play volleyball internationally, but after, I would like to do research or maybe get my graduate degree and become a professor.
Q: You've indicated quite an eclectic taste in music, ranging from Frank Sinatra to Green Day to various country artists. Are those all interchangeable at any given time, or do you have different styles for different moments? Would we ever find you listening to Sinatra before a big match?
SYFTESTAD: I do like different styles for different activities. Like when I work out I listen to higher-energy music, but I also listen to that when I'm just hanging out, so maybe it is a bit interchangeable. So yes, you might find me listening to Sinatra before a big match. Whatever makes you feel good. For me, it's more about having a full belly of food before I play.
Q: How did you spend the recent holidays?
SYFTESTAD: Relaxing at home. I went to Tahoe with my family for a couple of days, and also spent a couple of days in Temecula with extended family. I played a little bit of sand volleyball with my cousin and some friends.
Q: What kind of New Year's resolutions do you have for 2016 pertaining to volleyball?
SYFTESTAD: Become an all-around better player, and someone who betters the players around him. I want to become a solid player that others can rely on to produce each game, so no one else feels any pressure to do so.
Previous Triton Q&A Features
Grant Jackson (Men's Basketball) December 18, 2015
Stephanie Sin (Women's Swimming & Diving) November 25, 2015
Beth Mounier (Women's Basketball) November 17, 2015
Nick Alexander (Men's Water Polo) October 21, 2015
Myles Cooper (Strength & Conditioning) October 6, 2015
Jordyn McNutt (Women's Soccer) September 8, 2015
Cameron McElfresh (Men's Soccer) September 1, 2015
Daniel Franz (Men's Cross Country) August 17, 2015
Meagan Wright (Women's Volleyball) August 10, 2015
Chase Cockerill (Men's Water Polo) August 3, 2015
Kelcie Brodsky (Women's Soccer) July 27, 2015
Kuba Waligorski (Men's Soccer) July 20, 2015
Nate Garcia (Cross Country) July 13, 2015
2014-15 • 2013-14 • 2010-13 • 2004-09