Jul 08, 2015
RICHMOND, Va. – As they'd say in Baku: Uğur, Janelle Sykes.
That means "good luck" in Azerbaijan, where the former VCU star will continue her volleyball career. Sykes has signed a professional contract with Azeryol Baku of Azerbaijan's Super League, one of the most competitive and respected in Europe. Azeryol placed third in the six-team league in 2014-15.
A former walk-on, Sykes was named First Team All-Atlantic 10 Conference and VaSID First Team All-State as a senior for VCU in 2014. The 6-foot-3 middle blocker averaged a career-best 2.82 kills per set and hit .330 for the 17-13 Rams. Her 1.20 blocks per set ranked second in the A-10.
"Last summer I didn't even think this was something that could come to fruition for me, but midway through the season I started getting it in my head that I needed to go for this," Sykes said. "I think I gained a lot of confidence in myself this past year. I think you really have to believe in yourself before you make a step as big as this one and I think I started to believe in myself this past year."
Sykes, a native of Clifton, Va., ranks sixth in school history in blocks (345) and tied the VCU single-season record for total blocks (172) in 2013. She is the first VCU player coached by Jody Rogers, who took over the program in 2013, to sign a pro contract.
Rogers says Sykes, who took up volleyball late and was lightly recruited out of Trinity Christian School, earned her way to the professional ranks by logging countless hours in the gym.
"That's her story, of working hard," said Rogers, who is 43-21 in two seasons with VCU. "That's the culture we want here. We want to have girls that work hard, and opportunities come when you work hard. This is all on her. It's exciting for her and kudos to her for working her tail off and making people around her great.
Sykes will depart for Azerbaijan later this summer.