After nearly quitting, Christina Oyawale uses volleyball to form legacy

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on October 22, 2018 at 11:06 pm Contact Andrew: arcrane@syr.edu | @CraneAndrew Christina Oyawale was minutes away from quitting volleyball her senior year of high school.She showed up to practice at Parkdale (Maryland) High School not dressed to play and told Christine Johnson and Madeline Sease, her two coaches, that she was leaving to interview for a job at Checkers.“College wasn’t really an option in my mind,” Oyawale said. “It was more of just graduating, getting a job, and then paying.”Johnson and Sease were shocked. They saw potential in her athletic frame and passion for the game that Oyawale didn’t, and were not going to put up with her decision to leave and flip hamburgers.“I’m looking at her [in that moment] and I’m like, ‘Girl, you’re going to get a scholarship to go to college,’” Sease said. “‘What are you talking about you’re going to quit and get a job at Checkers?’”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textFive years later, Oyawale, now a redshirt senior at Syracuse, has become a mentor for both her teammates at SU and students at Parkdale. After missing time this season because of an ankle injury, Oyawale has put herself in position to cement her legacy at Parkdale and Syracuse by leading the Orange to their first NCAA tournament appearance in program history.But her career at SU almost never started. Prince George’s County, the Maryland county bordering the eastern side of Washington, D.C. where Oyawale grew up, isn’t a breeding place for Division I volleyball players. It’s a place where a “for fun” attitude exists, Johnson said, often resulting in mediocre results.“Coming to Parkdale, you didn’t have that winning mentality,” Johnson said. “Just to be on the team was fine with them.”Oyawale didn’t play volleyball until her freshman year of high school. When Johnson and Sease saw Oyawale play for the first time, there was no doubt in their minds that they would convince her to play volleyball.Anna Henderson | Digital Design EditorBut the path to college seemed unlikely. Her parents couldn’t afford it. The night Oyawale tried to quit, Johnson spoke to Oyawale’s father, Kunle Oyawale in Parkdale’s parking lot. Her message to him was that she wasn’t going to invest the time in his daughter if she couldn’t commit herself. The coach had instilled in Parkdale’s program a “no-nonsense, give all you have or nothing” attitude, but that night, the Oyawales saw a different side of the longtime coach.Johnson said it was a time that she didn’t have to be so mean. But she explained to Kunle he should see his daughter play.“Yes ma’am,” Johnson said Kunle responded, and he exited his car to watch Oyawale.“He hasn’t stopped (coming) since,” Johnson said. In order to get noticed by college coaches, Oyawale had to take the next step to club volleyball. Though money remained a problem, Kunle sold his car to afford to put Oyawale on a team.Oyawale led Parkdale to a 10-6 record in her senior year, and her raw talent and passion for the game made her a potential recruit. The night before she was supposed to visit Syracuse, Oyawale stood with her cousin in Parkdale’s hallway after watching a school basketball game. Outside, a snowstorm brewed, and Oyawale called Yelin to tell him that she wouldn’t be able to make her official visit. On the spot, she said, Yelin offered her a scholarship.“‘We believe this is something that you really want to do, and if you want it, it’s yours,’” Oyawale said Yelin told her.She accepted immediately. Oyawale chose the No. 9 because of her May 9 birthday, nine-pound birth weight, and way she drew stick figures as a child. M’kaela White, who Oyawale helped mentor at Parkdale and now plays volleyball at James Madison, also wears the No. 9.Oyawale is a first-generation Nigerian, with both of her parents born in Nigeria. At home, they don’t call their daughter “Christina,” and instead use her given name. Oyawale says that her life outside of Syracuse is surrounded by Nigerian culture, from the food she eats to the friends she hangs out with. Sometimes, in practice, she jokingly uses an accent to throw her teammates off.Seven of SU’s players are from outside of the United States, representing six different countries. Though Yelin said Oyawale’s play remains raw at times, the redshirt senior helped them adapt to the United States’ culture and college life. Yuliia Yastrub, a sophomore from Ukraine, said the toughest part for her is the language and how to act around others, but credits her teammates, such as Oyawale, for the transition.In the 2016 season, there were no seniors on the SU roster, and the then-redshirt sophomore found herself in a mentoring role despite her limited experience. Oyawale calls SU a family, and she’s the big sister.Oyawale took a visit to Sease last spring, and walked in during one of Sease’s health classes at Parkdale. Sease’s students all wanted to be professional athletes, she said, and Oyawale took the time to break down her routine to them, touching on everything from what her training and academic schedules are to how early she wakes up each morning.Many of Sease’s students don’t have the work ethic to make it past high school, she said. They have no idea what their dream career holds. Six years after she nearly quit volleyball, Oyawale stood in a leadership role and guided them.“I think skill is something you can work at, and anyone can get that,” Oyawale said, “but your heart and your passion for the game, that’s something you can’t just get overnight.” Commentslast_img read more