When Rachel Dyer was in junior high, she loved to watch her older sister play varsity volleyball for the high school team. What she loved even more was sneaking off to a corner behind the bleachers with the volleyball she brought from home and passing against the wall to see how many times in a row she could do it.
Her love for volleyball has continued to grow throughout the years, and the 6-foot-1 BYU middle blocker from Encinitas, Calif., has high expectations for her last season as a Cougar.
“As a senior, there’s this sense of urgency you feel,” Dyer said. “It definitely makes the goals I’ve always had more important.”
Among those goals are a Mountain West Conference championship and a national championship. Dyer and head coach Shay Goulding agree the team can earn both if it focuses on each game individually.
“If we treat each game like it is the most important, then the national championship is something that’s in reach,” Goulding said.
A Year of Transitions
At the end of last year, Dyer learned she would be playing her senior year under a new head coach. At a team meeting where the players voiced their thoughts about the season ahead, Dyer stood up and said there was no time to waste. It was her senior year and it was going to be amazing no matter who stood on the sidelines.
Since taking over, Goulding has been impressed with Dyer on many levels. She asked Dyer to play from every position on the court in the first few weeks of the spring season was with the team.
“Rachel showed she could be depended on to do just about anything,” Goulding said. “When she’s out on the floor she competes hard, and she expects her teammates to compete hard. She’s a great leader and example in that way.”
In addition to having a new coach, Dyer was anxious as a senior leader about the many new players on the team this season and how she could help them come together. She said the team trip to Argentina over the summer was the catalyst for the chemistry and bond the players developed.
Camaraderie is an important part of volleyball for Dyer, and being able to live through the highs and lows of a college sport with other people has been a rewarding experience.
“When all is said and done, my best friends in the entire world are my teammates,” Dyer said.
Teammate and fellow senior Bryn Porter shares Dyer’s emphasis on friendship among the athletes.
The two met before they began attending BYU when they visited for a recruiting trip. They talked to each other at tournaments in California and kept in touch through email.
“Rachel is one of my closest friends on the team because we spend so much time together,” Porter said. “She makes you feel like you’ve known her forever.”
A Family Affair
Dyer, who is the seventh of 10 children, has no shortage of dedicated fans. Her mother and father travel from California to almost every home match and many away matches as well. Her older sister comes from Orem to cheer Dyer on and even hosted a team breakfast at her home recently.
“I have an extremely supportive family, and it’s been such a blessing to me,” Dyer said. “I know that they understand how important [volleyball] is to me because they feel the same way, and knowing they are in the stands watching me helps me feel at ease.”
Dyer’s sister, Jennifer Finlinson, said Rachel used to come to her volleyball matches as a kid and now she enjoys bringing her three children to watch their aunt play.
“It’s always been a family priority to support one another,” Finlinson said. “She’s worked so hard at what she’s done, and she’s so dedicated. It’s fun to see her reaching her goals.”
Finlinson and her family attend all of the home contests and follow away matches on the computer or radio. They have even come to matches when Dyer was injured and unable to play.
“It’s about her knowing that we love and support her as a family, whether she wins or loses, whether she’s playing or not,” said Finlinson.
A Higher Commitment
When Dyer was in high school, she would not play for a club team because it required the athletes to play and practice on Sunday. She made a commitment to herself to not participate on the Sabbath and did not allow for any excuse or justification.
“She was willing to walk away from her goal to play college volleyball if it meant she would have to play on Sunday to get there,” Finlinson said.
Soon enough, several club coaches realized that Dyer’s talent was needed and offered her a position on the team, allowing her to miss games and practices held on Sunday.
Finlinson said the commitment Dyer had to her decision not to play on Sunday translates to loyalty to those around her.
“Good times or bad times, I have never heard her say anything negative about her teammates or coaches,” Finlinson said. “She is 100 percent loyal.”
Dyer’s loyalty to the good of her teammates and coaches also manifests itself in her work ethic and devotion to the sport.
“She’s always trying to improve herself and trying to be better than she was the last match or the last season, and that’s what makes her a great role model,” Finlinson said.
A Balancing Act
Dyer, who has been named Academic All-MWC every year she has played at BYU, emphasizes studying as much as playing volleyball. She attributes her ability to excel at both school and sport to experiences before college.
“I was doing the same kind of balancing act in high school between volleyball, basketball and school,” Dyer said. “I’ve learned how to multitask when I can and prioritize when I can’t.”
Dyer also puts an emphasis on service in her life. She and two other members of the volleyball team traveled to Tonga in the summer of 2006 to teach English to junior high school children for two months.
“It was probably the most challenging experience in a lot of ways for me, but I grew so much from it and I loved the people so much. That’s what kept me going,” Dyer said.
A Broader Perspective
One of Dyer’s most memorable experiences was BYU’s 3-1 victory over No. 4 Stanford in its home-opener in 2006. A record-breaking crowd packed the Fieldhouse to support her and the rest of the Cougars.
“I took a second, and I looked around,” Dyer said. “I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I cannot believe I’m living my dream right now.”
And a dream it has been for the player who has received accolades and respect from coaches and peers throughout her career. But Dyer realizes volleyball can be more than a sport for her.
“I’ve tried to see [volleyball] as a microcosm of life,” Dyer said. “I think sports have that ability to teach a lot of important life lessons, and for me, being a part of a team and trying to learn those lessons together has been the best part about this whole experience.”