To fully grasp Sydney Masur’s love for soccer, you must understand her upbringing.
Sydney, who just completed her freshman season with Indiana women’s soccer as a defensive midfielder, comes from a soccer family with a rich history.
It’s a lifestyle she was born into and fully embraced from a young age in Montclair, New Jersey.
The youngest of four children, Sydney had plenty of role models to choose from. Her oldest sister Samantha Masur played for the St. John’s University women’s soccer team, while her brother Chris Masur is currently a junior playing for the Bucknell University men’s soccer team. Her other sister Jessica Masur took a different path and is a senior pitcher for the Stevens Institute for Technology softball team.
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Sydney’s father David Masur is to thank for this trend within the family. The massive influence he's had on Sydney’s life and soccer career stems from a long-cemented status as a Hall of Famer in the world of college soccer. He was a two-time All-American honoree as a player for Rutgers and has a national championship to his name during his ongoing 31-year tenure as head coach of the St. John’s men’s soccer team.
Because of her father’s presence, soccer has always surrounded Sydney. She always attended St. John’s matches growing up, and he’d regularly attend her’s and his other children’s matches.
“He tried to stay as more of a dad figure than a coach, and it was hard to balance, but he did perfectly,” Sydney said. “At my games, he was encouraging but never too crazy on the sidelines.”
It comes as no surprise that Sydney, Samantha and Chris all turned out to play as midfielders — it’s quite literally in their blood.
“As a parent, sometimes you have an influence by exposing them,” David said. “They all have that comprehensive background as far as technical and tactical awareness, the ability to see the game.”
The skills were always within, but they needed to be honed. If Sydney wasn’t physically practicing and improving, she’d be taking mental notes of Samantha's habits on the ball when she attended her matches. She was there when Samantha led Montclair High School to a state championship in 2014, and she envisioned herself lifting the same trophy when she came of age.
While her siblings had already made decisions on how far and where they’d carry their individual soccer legacies, the baby of the Masur family had only begun her journey toward a life centered around the sport. Before an offer and commitment to Indiana became conceivable, her character and will would be pushed to the limit.
It was primarily in the four years as a midfielder on Montclair High School’s girls soccer team during which Sydney developed the mental toughness she carries with her to this day.
Both Montclair and her club, Match Fit Academy FC, named Sydney a team captain.
“High school is about working hard.” Sydney said. “It taught me a lot about being a leader because it wasn’t always easy leading a team of girls where some may not be as invested as I was and soccer isn’t their life.”
Although Sydney could not capture a state championship title with Montclair — her sister’s feat with the 2014 team remains the lone title in school history — she had her own fair share of success before arriving in Bloomington.
In the fall of 2019, Sydney’s junior year, Montclair took home every other piece of silverware imaginable, being crowned Essex County, Super Essex Conference and State Sectional champions. She led Montclair to an 18-0-2 record that season, the only undefeated side the school has ever boasted.
Soon enough, her senior season — shortened to around six weeks due to the COVID-19 outbreak — had concluded, and her sights were set on Indiana. She had already committed prior to that season — overcoming the dealbreaker that was her fear of flying — and came to Bloomington that spring as a mid-year after graduating high school early and being admitted into the Kelley School of Business.
By the time Sydney was preparing for life as a Hoosier, Samantha had already wrapped up an entire playing career at St. John’s. Her first few seasons with the Red Storm didn’t go to plan.
In the fraction of playing time she did receive, she suffered an ACL injury. Samantha’s response to that setback and the consistent starts she made in her final two seasons served as inspirations for Sydney’s own path.
“She’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever seen on the field,” Sydney said. “Just an amazing, natural captain, and I try to take that and learn from her.”
The boredom was almost unbearable.
Sitting around in her Bloomington dorm last spring, Sydney tapped away at her laptop, sending out email after email directed toward the NCAA. Her COVID-riddled senior season had stolen away invaluable matches with the girls she grew up around. With the opportunity for a fresh start several states away, all she wanted was to get back into her normal routine and start her collegiate soccer career early.
The NCAA gave Sydney and other mid-years forward Jordyn Levy and midfielder Kelly Monaco the green light to practice with their new team, but they were forced to cheer from the sidelines during matches. The nature of that COVID-postponed season meant the three were some of the only fans in attendance at Bill Armstrong Stadium.
When she was recruited by Indiana head coach Erwin van Bennekom, Sydney said the competitive and intense environment between the players stood out to her.
“I just knew this was the place I needed to be,” Sydney said. “I knew it would be a really hard challenge. I didn’t want to go somewhere where I was guaranteed anything, obviously, you’re not guaranteed anything anywhere, and Erwin made it clear that it doesn’t matter if you’re getting a full scholarship or whatever, if you work hard and play hard, you’ll see the field.”
So when Sydney wasn’t on the pitch as much as she hoped to be at the start of this fall with the Hoosiers, she didn’t let the feeling of discouragement control her for long.
Regardless of whether she was starting or not, she made sure to create bonds with her teammates. It was up to her, for instance, to get the locker room vibes right before matches by playing catchy songs of the 2010s like PSY’s “Gangnam Style” or Katy Perry’s “Firework.”
It was still a completely different position than she was used to or comfortable being in, but she took pride in one of the program’s strongest values: selflessness.
“Knowing your role on the team is really important because if you do your role to the best of your ability, then everyone’s helping the team out,” Sydney said. “I took it as something that would be really important for my development initially, not starting or playing as much.”
Sydney said her father has become much more of a coach for her now that she’s learning how to transition to playing in college.
“He didn’t let me be negative,” Sydney said. “He told me, ‘You’re a freshman. You look forward to the future and have a great opportunity at a great school.’”
After coming off the bench for several matches, Sydney earned her first career collegiate start Sept. 9 in a victory against Murray State University. From that point, she started in nine of Indiana’s final 11 matches and appeared in all but one of the team’s 18 matches this season.
Even when Sydney began to perform well, she said her father didn’t let her get ahead of herself, reminding her of the importance of staying humble.
“I talk to (my children) better now about how to get engaged in the game and with tactical advice,” David said. “I tell them what’s expected of them and to enjoy the process.”
Sydney understands she won’t fill up the box score as a defensive midfielder, and that’s OK. Her strong end to the season — despite not recording any goals — didn’t go unnoticed.
That perseverance earned Sydney a spot on the All-Big Ten freshman team with fellow teammate and goalkeeper Jamie Gerstenberg, who tied the program’s individual single-season shutout record with nine.
“Every single game I try to make sure I have all the intangibles: working hard, keeping up the pace and just making sure the things you can control to the best of your ability are on point,” Sydney said.
Indiana just missed out on the Big Ten Tournament and failed to earn a bid into the NCAA Tournament as a result, but Sydney feels as though the program continues to write the new history van Bennekom promised her. The first nine-win season in nine years for Indiana and a foothold in the top-40 of the nation’s RPI rankings for the majority of the regular season would agree.
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Sydney is part of a young group of players for Indiana which will likely make up the team’s core in 2022 and beyond. Several upperclassmen have used up their extra years of eligibility and are set to depart, which will provide more chances for players like her to solidify themselves in van Bennekom’s starting XI.
Those same upperclassmen, a few of which were team captains this season, were the ones Sydney looked up to the most as she tried to overcome the frustration of not starting, and then later the pressure of living up to her starts.
She said the leadership and positivity graduate defender Allison Jorden — who suffered a season-ending injury last spring and completed her emotional comeback with an appearance in a victory over Northwestern on Oct. 8 — displayed while not being able to play was a huge inspiration for her mindset.
“It just showed me that whatever you’re going through, there’s always someone going through something worse,” Sydney said.
On the pitch, Sydney said she’s benefited from playing alongside graduate defender Hanna Nemeth, whose calmness on the ball and ability to push up the field are aspects she’s been incorporating into her game because the two play in similar positions.
“Having captains like that were big for team chemistry and helped me see what I can become in the future,” Sydney said. “We have a bunch of young players who also lead by example and a program of girls who are really coachable.”
Indiana’s rebuild in recent seasons has only strengthened the team’s chemistry and given Sydney another family. The love and support she’s received from her teammates and fans as a freshman have been helpful distractions from the homesickness she’s felt being so far from Montclair.
“Town pride was really big in Montclair,” Sydney said. “That’s translated to IU with Indiana Pride, with the fans and the Student Athletic Board at games.”
Following in her siblings’ and father’s footsteps and inspired by her love for the game she’s known all her life, Sydney is beginning to thrive again as she develops into the leader she’s so used to being.
She’s already carved out her meaningful role in Indiana’s defensive-minded system and will be key in helping raise this program, which shares an insatiable desire for improvement, to higher levels.