“You don’t stop playing until the whistle blows,” senior outside hitter Tyler Spriggs told her teammates from the sidelines in a tough game against Hawai’i Nov. 3.
Leading has always been natural for Spriggs.
From her start as a freshman at Arizona State, and now at Long Beach State (15-13, 7-8 Big West), she has never shied away from speaking her mind. This is why it came as no surprise at the home opener against Seattle University in late August, that head coach Joy McKienzie-Fuerbringer announced the senior as captain of the women’s volleyball team.
“Throughout most of my career I’ve kind of been looked at like, ‘OK you have this natural leader in you so if you see something you need to speak up,’” Spriggs said.
The quality is something her new players and coaches picked up on immediately when she joined the team. Within weeks, the players chose her as their captain in a silent vote, and she quickly became a sound board and mentor for a number of players on the team.
“She brings years of experience and naturally stepped into that position and that’s something she earned from the players,” McKienzie-Fuerbringer said. “Tyler is really good with the dynamic of the team, she’s able to pull them in and reset when we’re not focusing on what we need to be doing.”
Spriggs not only makes a difference for team morale, but with her pure talent as well. She has made an exceptional impact in the team’s last few games, putting up back-to-back 21 kill performances against UC Riverside and Cal State Fullerton, both resulting in wins. Spriggs was named athlete of the week by the Big West Conference, in which she lands fifth in total kills at 311.
Volleyball wasn’t always the clear path for the outside hitter. The Los Angeles native comes from a family of basketball players, with her father Larry Spriggs playing four years in the NBA, her uncle coaching at Georgetown and her cousin playing overseas ball.
“I’ve always been the biggest kid out of the class,” said Spriggs, who towers at 6-feet-1-inches. “Growing up it was always like, ‘You’re going to play basketball because of my height and my dad’ then I started playing volleyball in the third grade and I was like OK I kinda like this.”
It took Spriggs six more years to tell her parents she wanted to focus solely on volleyball and drop basketball, in a LeBron-esque conversation with her dad she refers to as “the decision.”
“That was hard for everyone to come to terms with, especially my dad, but they were always super supportive of the decision,” she said. “Their biggest thing was as long as you’re good at it. Whatever you decide to do just be the best, we’ll be behind you all the way.”
Her other main support system were her two grandmothers who both died of cancer in 2015. The deaths took a mental toll on Spriggs and her love for the sport, according to her brother, Larry.
“Although we saw Tyler lose some of her spark for volleyball at the time, everybody in the family knew to keep her focused on what she loved,” Larry said. “Through volleyball she channeled her emotions and played at such an incredible level it led to her becoming a top ranked recruit.”
Since returning from Arizona and transferring to Long Beach, Spriggs has had the chance to be around more of her family, including her mother who goes to all of her home games and her brother, who she calls one of her best friends.
“It’s a great feeling to be able to support her, especially now in her hometown,” Larry said. “I’ve been supporting her since she first started … the family is beyond proud for Tyler’s volleyball career.”
While the pressure of being the only transferring senior on the team was on her shoulders, Spriggs fell right into motion with the rest of the players and quickly became a integral part of their development. She can be seen on the sidelines coaching and encouraging her teammates during tough games and on the floor getting the team fired up in critical moments.
“Maybe it’s a drill or whatever is at hand, but she’s got a real good feel and awareness of the dynamic of the team,” McKienzie-Fuerbringer said. “She’s good at noticing when the team needs a reset and she’s very not threatening, but she’s able to approach it in an urgent way.”
The outside hitter looks to Lakers legend Kobe Bryant as inspiration as a leader, not only because of her father’s time with the team, but because of his mindset and ability to make others better. Spriggs exhibits the same resolved, determined demeanor on the court, as she puts her teammates in check without scaring them away.
“His level of intensity all the time and the … ‘I want you to be the best so you can make me better,’ that mindset is something that not many have and it’s something I wish I could do all the time,” Spriggs said. “You get to that point of self awareness. I know when it’s time to be loose and when it’s crunch time, let’s go, nothing else matters. That’s something I’ve definitely been able to grow and kind of hone in as I’ve gotten older.”
While the senior is now soaking up her last few months as a Division I volleyball player, she looks to lead in her future as a club volleyball coach, just as her mentor McKienzie-Fuerbringer did for her.