Sophomore Sydney Hilley makes mark statistically and in other ways for Wisconsin volleyball team

September 20, 2018 GMT

There were no real surprises for Sydney Hilley from the personality test she took along with her University of Wisconsin volleyball teammates.

“I got pretty much what I expected,” said Hilley, a sophomore setter from Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. “It showed I really like to follow rules, analyze data and situations. And that I like to compete. I kind of knew that about myself.”

UW coach Kelly Sheffield kind of knew that too. And it is that combination of traits that has helped Hilley to accomplish a seemingly impossible task of successfully succeeding Lauren Carlini as setter.

Indeed, Hilley managed to one-up her predecessor and role model in her freshman season by leading the team to a program-record .299 hitting percentage.

“That’s pretty impressive for a freshman setter,” Sheffield said. “That’s remarkable with the history we’ve had here.”

That mark could be in jeopardy this season as the No. 6 Badgers (7-1) are hitting .294 as they head into Big Ten Conference play tonight when they host Ohio State (9-3) at the UW Field House.

Of the various statistical measures of a setter’s performance, Hilley sees hitting percentage as the most significant.

“I think that reflects what I did during the game the most,” she said, noting that the team goal is to hit over .300 each match. “That shows how well I followed the scouting report and how well I give my hitters opportunities to get kills.”

Whether it shows up on the stat sheet or not, Sheffield said there’s no question Hilley has taken her game to a new level this season.

“The game has slowed down for her from last year,” he said. “I think she’s in total control of her emotions and she’s totally in control of her team. She’s a better server, a better defensive player and a much better blocker.”

Hilley, who was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team and received All-American honorable mention, was determined to improve in all those aspects of the game this season. But she believes her biggest advancement has been in her leadership skills.

“I’ve always loved to get better at my skill set, like I need to go work on setting or I need to go work on digging,” Hilley said. “But leadership is a skill too that I never really took the time to work on till I got here.

“Obviously, I had really big shoes to fill and I knew that going into it. But I guess I didn’t know how much goes into being a good leader. In high school I was a captain for three years and I was a captain for the Youth National Team and captain for club. I thought I was a great leader and then I came here and I was like, wow, there’s so much I didn’t know about leading a team.

“It’s things like being vocal and doing the stuff behind the scenes, knowing how certain people want to be talked to in certain moments. I feel like that’s something I’ve gotten a lot better at.”

While there are different styles of leadership, Hilley’s earnest, dependable personality serves her well in that regard.

“She conducts her life the right way,” Sheffield said. “There’s a maturity. Great leaders have to be mature and she’s a very mature young person. There’s predictability with her. She’s consistent with how she approaches things. You know what you’re going to get.

“She’s a lead by example person. She’s not an in-your-face type or a rah-rah person. But every single day there’s a consistency about her. You know she’s going to be prepared, you know she’s going to expect you to be prepared and she’s somebody that people want to be good for.

“I think her teammates want to be good for her because they know she’s putting it all on the line every single day in order to be great. She goes to bed thinking about how can she make her teammates better and I think that’s an amazing leadership trait.”

Over the past year Hilley has turned to former Badgers such as Carlini, Haleigh Nelson, Courtney Thomas and Dominique Thompson for advice on leadership.

“She does what great players do, trying to find ways to get better and reaching out to those players who have been there before her,” Sheffield said. “She’s a really, really good setter that’s got a chance to be special.

“I think she’s on a path to being one of the truly great ones who’s ever come through here.”