Willits continues career as Iowa State Cyclone


Photo courtesy of Sydney Willits

Soaring Sydney: Taking off on a long jump, senior Sydney Willits flies through the air, landing into the sand pit. With Willits’ family by her side, she plans to take her final track and field season at South in stride.

Charlie Mihelic, asst. sports editor

Two things run through the Willits’ family blood: a passion for track and the red and gold of the Iowa State Cyclones. Senior girls’ track athlete Sydney Willits will become a third-generation track athlete at Iowa State after years of dedication and hard work, specializing in long jump and triple jump.

Willits committed to Iowa State in October 2020 following an unusual recruiting process due to the pandemic. She said that Iowa State stood out from other schools because of the way they take care of their athletes physically and academically. Willits’ grandfather Francis Long and Willits’ parents also competed at Iowa State and Long said he never imagined his granddaughter would someday follow in their footsteps.

“To have her compete there is extra special,” Long said. “I don’t think you see many third-generation [athletes] very often. My father was actually a student there, so she’s a fourth-generation student.”

Willits said that family is, and has always been, her biggest motivator. All she wants is to set an especially good example for her younger siblings.

“I am the oldest of five kids,” Willits said. “Seeing all of them look up to me makes me want to push myself more to show them that you can excel in anything you put your mind to.”

Sydney’s mother Christa Willits credits her daughter’s work ethic to childhood gymnastics’ and its 16-hours-a-week practice schedule.

“She’s got a really strong work ethic that started with gymnastics,” Christa said. “All the time commitment required for it made her grow up disciplined, regimented and very focused on athletics.”

This mindset is what enabled her to compete in the Junior Olympics in Sacramento, California as a sophomore and become an All-American, a title only given to the most outstanding collegiate and high school athletes. Sydney is casual about her accolades and aspirations, focusing on long-term goals of improving her personal numbers rather than comparing them to others around the country.

Sydney said the junior season is very important to track runners looking for scholarships and offers and while losing the season was hard, she was lucky enough to have sophomore season numbers backing her up.

“Junior year is usually crucial because you can truly see the amount of growth you have had,” Sydney said. “It jeopardized some of the people who really wanted those marks to go to college for track and get scholarships. With my marks though, I was lucky enough to feel confident about my recruitment process.”

Despite the family affiliation, Sydney’s family members made an effort not to pressure her to attend Iowa State. Ryan Willits, Sydney’s father, claimed they wanted her to choose her own school and not feel obligated to follow her parents’ path.

“I wanted her to choose what she felt was best for her,” Ryan said. “We looked at schools across the country, but she finally navigated back to Iowa State on her own.”