Mary Bryant remembers her granddaughter Kayla’s reaction after she learned she had been named Most Valuable Player of the 2017 Cara Bryant Memorial Volleyball Tournament. “She said to me, ‘I hope I didn’t get this because of who I am.’ I told her, ‘No. It’s because of how good you are.’”
Cara Bryant was a standout volleyball player at OCC who was the victim of a homicide in 2002. Kayla Bryant is her daughter. She was 5-years-old when her mother was taken from her. Kayla has been raised by her grandparents, Mary and Hy Bryant whom she refers to as her parents. “She calls us mom and dad and that’s fine and dandy,” said Mary. “That’s the role we have in her life. We feel like neither one of us is trying to replace Cara but Cara isn’t here so we have to be what we are.”
The Bryant’s are part of the fabric that makes up Onondaga Community College. Mary has been a professor in the Computer Studies major for more than 30 years. Hy started OCC’s volleyball program in 1982 and was its first coach. He also served as OCC’s Athletic Director on three separate occasions. The constant grind of recruiting which required him to drive all over New York State led Hy to step away from his coaching responsibilities at OCC and become volleyball coach at Marcellus High School where he would coach Cara.
Cara played “setter” which is considered to be volleyball’s most important position. “The setter has to get ready, look at the other team, where the blockers are, who’s in the front row, who your dominant hitters are and know what plays you’re going to run,” said Hy. Cara would excel as Marcellus’ setter, graduate in 1994 and go on to play the same position at OCC.
Thanks to Hy’s involvement with the Marcellus volleyball program the sport was a constant in Kayla’s life. “I would always go to the games,” Kayla said. “I was the ball girl and the players would always hang out with me.”
As Kayla got older she would play volleyball year round and develop into an outstanding player. Like Cara, she excelled at the position of setter. “I wanted to play through her and for her. I think being a setter was just kind of a given,” said Kayla.
Kayla graduated from Marcellus High School in 2016 and decided to attend Onondaga Community College. “We were so pleased Kayla decided to come to OCC,” Mary said. “She could have gone somewhere else and done well but she would have never been a part of the tournament named after her mother.”
The College started hosting an annual volleyball tournament in 1986. After Cara’s death in 2002, then Athletic Director Bob McKenney reached out to the Bryant’s with the idea of putting Cara’s name on the event.
Despite OCC being the home team every year, it hadn’t won its own tourney since 1999. That changed in October 2017 when Kayla Bryant led her team to the tournament championship and was named tournament MVP. “Kayla was steady, smart and very cool out there,” said Hy. “She was a very good court general or quarterback.”
Kayla’s performance in the Cara Bryant Memorial Tournament mirrored her sophomore season. She led the Lazers to the conference regular season and tournament titles, was named conference player of the year, conference tournament MVP and first team All-Region.
With her sophomore season behind her Kayla is looking to the future. She’s a General Studies major who plans to transfer to SUNY Alfred in the fall and continue her volleyball career. She also hopes to continue to incorporate the past into her future by wearing number 8, the same number her mother wore. “I’ve always worn 8. It’s a really valuable symbol to me. That’s our number. People say we share a lot of on-court qualities. It’s nice we had the chance to connect on the volleyball court.”
After Cara Bryant’s death a fund was started through the OCC Foundation in her memory. The fund recently became endowed and that money will be used each year to support the Women’s Volleyball program. If you would like to contribute to this fund or support OCC students in other ways, you can do so by donating online. You can also reach the OCC Foundation via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.