Former Northern Arizona volleyball standout Sydney Lema is sticking around the program after all.
Coach Ken Murphy formally announced the hiring of Lema as assistant coach, completing his staff ahead of the 2022 season.
"To keep a great person like Sydney close to our program is exciting," Murphy said. "She was a model of what we value while she was a player here, and for her to pass that along to our team now and in the future is very valuable to us. She knows a lot about the game for a younger coach, and she brings a lot of enthusiasm for the game. You can tell she's interested in helping players get better and growing as a coach and an individual."
Lema spent the spring and fall 2021 seasons as a graduate assistant on Murphy's staff following a stellar playing career with the Lumberjacks from 2016 to 2019. At the conclusion of her career, Lema ranked third in program history with 1,515 digs, sixth with 3.47 digs per set and tied for 10th with 108 aces.
Battling through a myriad of injuries, Lema still managed to play in 436 sets -- sixth most in program history -- and start all but one of her 117 career matches played. As a senior, Lema earned a spot on the All-Big Sky Second Team after averaging 1.81 kills and 3.72 digs per set in 2019.
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"NAU volleyball has given me so many opportunities and I've experienced so many things over the last six years," Lema said. "I'm so happy to continue to be part of the program and this community, and I hope to share my experiences with our athletes as they come through the program."
The Peoria native was an integral member of Northern Arizona's 2018 Big Sky championship and NCAA Tournament team. Also that season, Lema hit .294 and totaled six kills and 19 digs in Northern Arizona's monumental upset of No. 8 Florida.
Since completing her career, Lema served the last two seasons on Murphy's staff as a graduate assistant. During the recently completed fall 2021 season, Lema took on a larger role, working directly with the team's passing and defense. Under her guidance, Millie O'Ketter ranked fourth in the Big Sky with 3.89 digs per set overall. As a team, the Lumberjacks also allowed the second-fewest aces (1.38 per set, 76 total) in league play.
Lema has previous coaching experience with the Revolution Volleyball Academy 18 Adidas and 16 Adidas teams in 2019-20, while also assisting at a number of high school and club camps in Arizona and Colorado.
"I've already learned so much from (Murphy) playing for him, so being on the other side now is a different dynamic, but it's really awesome," Lema said. "He's such a great person and I've always looked up to him. He has a lot to offer, and it means a lot that I can get to stay here, work with him and continue to grow."
Lema graduated from Northern Arizona with her bachelor's degree in university studies and minors in biology and health and wellness-coaching in spring 2020. A four-time Golden Eagle Scholar-Athlete Award recipient and three-time Big Sky All-Academic honoree, Lema completed her master's degree in human relations in December.