When Triway head volleyball coach John Finn sees West Holmes Lady Knights head coach Sydney Mast’s name in print or hears her name come up in volleyball circles, he always has to smile.
A decade ago Mast, then an eager and excited young freshman, entered Finn’s world when he was the head volleyball coach at Kidron Central Christian. It was there that Mast’s huge hits and passion for the game helped the Comets earn a spot in the state tournament in 2012.
For Finn, seeing his pupil now in the coaching ranks is a testament to hard work and dedication.
“She is like my kid in a lot of ways,” Finn said.
Mast left little doubt as to how she felt about Finn.
“He was my favorite coach I have ever had, period,” Mast said. “From my freshman year at Central on, I knew I wanted to be a volleyball coach because of the way he coached, how much fun he had, how he impacted all of our lives in such a positive way and the relationships we built. He always had our back, and he would have done anything for us. He seemed to have a knack of understanding what each individual needed for motivation. He definitely exemplified a lot of traits I want to emulate as a coach.”
As a player Mast was passionate, excitable and energetic. A leader because of her effort, she became a feared hitter in the area. In her senior season at Central, Mast was named the District 4 Player of the Year and earned Second Team All-Ohio honors.
Mast would go on to play with a full scholarship at Cleveland State. After redshirting her freshman year, she would go on to help the Vikings continue their tradition of being a top-tier team in the Horizon League. She continued to be an inspirational leader on the floor for the Vikings, just like she had done at Central, and she now carries that same passion into her role of head coach at West Holmes.
“She coaches like she played,” Finn said of his student. “She is confident and in control. They are better at this point than we thought they would be at this point.”
The mentor and mentee met for a spirited game at West Holmes earlier this season, and Triway got the best of West Holmes, but there were plenty of emotions in The Dungeon.
Mast said she was very nervous about that game and said she has tried to emulate much of what Finn taught her as a player coming up through his system.
“He was never a loud coach, but he had a great way of inspiring and motivating us,” Mast said. “He wanted us to realize that we needed to have to want it. He couldn’t do that for us, and I think one of the biggest things he taught me was that you have to fight for everything you want to accomplish.”
Finn said he had no problem letting Mast be that loud, excitable and at times obnoxious (in Mast’s own words) on the court in high school, and he knew when to reign her in and when to let her go with her enthusiasm.
“We didn’t always agree, but we were always committed to the larger goal,” Finn said. “I have always been so proud of her. We had that successful run at Central in large part because of her.”
“One thing I always appreciated about John was that he was always so receptive to what I had to say, and that helped us build our relationship,” Mast said.
Describing his protégé as a player at Central Christian and again at Cleveland State University, Finn said Mast was always very driven to succeed.
“If Syd wants to do something, she will attack it and do it well,” Finn said. “She was always very self-assured, and when we had clashes in practice, it was always a good result because she was very coachable and open to instruction. Frankly I am not surprised at all that she is turning the West Holmes program around faster than I expected her to. Her passion is unparalleled.”
When Mast was deciding whether to remain in the Cleveland area to coach or to return to her hometown area, she sought out Finn’s advice. Such was the impact he had on her coaching career.
“He was one of the first people I contacted for advice because that is how much his opinion and leadership means to me,” Mast said. “I know that even now, even as we are coaching against each other, he would do anything for me. Because even though he wants to win very badly, he wants me to be successful too. That is the kind of person he is.”