Despite playing setter for the majority of her high school career, Sydney Hilley (left) racked up 555 kills on her way to earning a second-straight Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year award. Photo by Alex Conover, SportsEngine
Having met, and largely exceeded, every challenge placed before her on the volleyball court, Sydney Hilley of Champlin Park stepped outside of her comfort zone this year.
She’s been a setter most of her life and she’ll be a setter when plays collegiately for Wisconsin. When a chance arose to do something she’d never done before, she jumped at it.
Hilley moved to outside hitter — the volleyball equivalent of a quarterback moving to wide receiver — hoping to see what it’s like to terminate some of those juicy sets she had been so used to giving. It worked out even better than she expected. Hilley knocked down 555 kills and was the catalyst for the Rebels’ run to a third consecutive Class 3A state tournament berth. It also landed her a second consecutive selection as the Star Tribune Metro Volleyball Player of the Year.
“It’s been awesome,” said Hilley of her one-year position change. “Knowing I’ll never get the chance to do this again, I just wanted to go out with a bang.”
More like a resounding boom, the sound that generally follows one of Hilley’s powerful kills. She’s become so feared as a hitter that opposing fans cheer wildly when one of her kill attempts is dug out and play continues.
“She is so good at everything,” said Osseo senior outside hitter Tina Boe, a high school opponent and club volleyball teammate of Hilley’s. “She’s only been doing this for a year and she’s already better than me.”
Hilley, a team-first kind of player who is only now getting accustomed to the spotlight, just laughed and shook her head when that comment was relayed to her.
“Tina is so talented and so humble,” she said. “I’m just lucky to be friends with her and have had the chance to play with her.”
That humility has always been a strength of Hilley’s. Her move to outside hitter was as much about Rebels coach John Yunker maximizing his team’s talent as it was about throwing Hilley a bone. Champlin Park lost some big hitters to graduation from its 2015 team and had a future Division I setter in junior Izzy Ashburn waiting in the wings. It could be argued that Hilley took one for the team this year.
“Sydney’s such a great player that she can do just about anything,” Yunker said. “She’s so unselfish. She’s all about making the team better. Players like her don’t come around very often.”
As she was going through the customary handshake line after Champlin Park’s five-set victory over Wayzata in the Section 5 championship match on Saturday, Trojans coach Scott Jackson, who has coached Hilley in club volleyball for the Minnesota Select, leaned over and whispered in her ear.
“I didn’t say good luck or anything like that,” Jackson said. “I just told her I loved her. That’s all. I'm a little biased, but I’ve been [coaching volleyball] in Minnesota for over 20 years and I don’t think we’ve ever had a better all-around player in this state than Sydney Hilley.”
Hilley’s list of career achievments is lengthy. She and her Minnesota Select teammates won a USA Volleyball national club championship last summer. She was a setter for Team USA in the 2015 World Under-18 Championships in Peru (it finished second) and owns a National Player of the Year award from prepvolleyball.com.
There’s just one thing left on her to-do list before she heads east for college.
“I want to have brought a state championship to my school,” Hilley said. “That is my only goal. We’ve had 25 years without a state championship, and I want to bring one back.”
|2015||Sydney Hilley||Champlin Park|
|2014||Samantha Seliger Swenson||Hopkins|
|2013||Alyssa Goehner||Lakeville North|
|2012||Alyssa Goehner||Lakeville North|
|2010||Kellie McNeil||Lakeville North|
|2007||Kelsey Brandl||Lakeville North|
|2006||Hailey Cowles||Eden Prairie|
|2004||Courtney Cowles||Eden Prairie|
|2000||Tera Lobdell||Robbinsdale Armstrong|
|1994||Marissa Kimbrough||Bloomington Jefferson|
|1993||Becky Bauer||Bloomington Jefferson|
|1992||Sarah Pearman||Apple valley|
|1990||Kari Anderson||Columbia Heights|
|1989||Kim Hanson and Allison Murphy||Chaska|
|1987||Alice Commers and Michelle Kaminski||Columbia Heights|
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