Now a bona fide world traveler, having experienced success on two continents, Sydney Hilley of Champlin Park can confidently offer advice to those visiting Peru.
“Bring your own toilet paper,” Hilley said. “And bottled water.”
Hilley’s recommendations come from a firsthand experience that has culminated in her being selected the 2015 Star Tribune Metro Volleyball Player of the Year.
Hilley spent August in Lima, Peru, the only Minnesotan to play for Team USA in the FIVB Girls’ Under-18 World Championships. The 6-foot, ridiculously athletic junior was a setter for that team, competing for playing time with another setter, Madison Lilley, while at the same time competing for her home country. It was a month of volleyball like she had never endured before.
“It was probably the most challenging thing I’ve ever done,” Hilley said. “We had intense practices every day, two or three times per day. But it was an amazing experience and I’m so glad I did it.”
Amazing, perhaps, but Hilley said she was ready to come home when it was over. Team USA finished second to Italy.
“I was blogging every day, but I didn’t expect anyone to read it,” she said. “When I left to try out for the team, I didn’t tell many people in case I didn’t make it. When I got back, people were wondering where I went. I just said ‘Sorry. I was in Peru.’ ”
Hilley noticed just how much her time in South America helped her game when she returned to her high school team. Her experience also had a trickle-down effect to her Champlin Park team. After playing at such a high level, her high school coach, John Yunker, picked her brain for things the Rebels could use.
“He asked me for information on the drills we ran. I told him my favorites and things like how practices were run,” Hilley said. “And I’ve improved so much and understand the game a lot more. I’m a better leader and I think that helps us be a better team.”
The Rebels’ record is evidence of that. They’re 24-3 heading into a Class 3A, Section 5 semifinal match Wednesday against Maple Grove. Two more victories would mean a return trip to the state tournament.
“I think last year, we were just happy to get there,” Hilley said. “This year, if we get there, I think we can go pretty far.”
While she was only a setter for Team USA, she said she enjoys the high school game because it allows her to get involved in the attack.
“What I like the most [about high school] is that I get to hit,” she said. “That helps me as a setter. It gives me a better understanding of what hitters want.”
One look at her high school numbers and it’s easy to see that Hilley’s multiple talents allow her to be successful at any position.
Through one round of the playoffs, she had 407 kills, 390 set assists and 207 digs this season, a versatility that’s hard to match. It’s also opened up opportunities for her teammates. For example, senior outside hitter Jenae Alderson has 311 kills and 399 serve receptions as teams scheme to beat Hilley.
Back in more familiar territory, Hilley has a greater appreciation of home. She’s looking forward to one more year of high school volleyball and home cooking before heading off to play for the University of Wisconsin.
“I love being able to drink tap water. And having toilet paper in public bathrooms,” she said. “Mostly, I love being back in Minnesota and being with my family and my team. It’s really a great place to be if you’re a volleyball player.”