BAYFIELD – The welcome-home party for Maddi Foutz and Kirstie Hillyer showed the Colorado State University volleyball team exactly what the town of Bayfield is about.
In front of nearly 1,000 passionate fans, the Rams played Northern Arizona University in a spring exhibition match Saturday night inside the Bayfield High School gymnasium, the home school of Foutz and Hillyer, who signed with the top-25 program out of high school and have starred during their time playing Division I volleyball in the Mountain West Conference.
Foutz and Hillyer were introduced by public address announcer Joel Priest, just as they had more than 100 times during their high school careers. The difference this time was the sound from the crowd. Always known for having one of the best volleyball crowds in the state, the Bayfield fans welcomed Foutz and Hillyer with a standing ovation and thundering roars. It was an ovation that would rival any they will hear inside Moby Arena on the CSU campus in Fort Collins, known for having one of the best NCAA fanbases in the nation.
“It’s incredible. Almost everybody here, I know,” Hillyer said. “Even though they may cheer in my gym in Fort Collins, it’s completely different to hear it in my hometown. I’ve honestly never heard anything like that because of all the love put behind it.”
When Hillyer was introduced, her former high school coach Terene Foutz wiped a tear from her eye. She only had seconds to prepare for the introduction of her daughter, who played inside BHS gymnasium only a year ago before her true freshman season at CSU this fall.
Terene Foutz, the director of the Four Corners Volleyball Club, was integral in getting the exhibition match to Bayfield in conjunction with the “Diggin’ It in Durango” club volleyball tournament that brought thousands of players to the Four Corners region for a weekend of matches.
“I never thought I’d play here again. It was so much fun,” Maddi Foutz said. “I literally had goosebumps during introductions.
“This was a dream come true, getting to come back to your hometown and play at your high school. Kudos to (my mom) for setting this up. This has been so awesome.”
Foutz and Hillyer didn’t disappoint in the four-set match. They helped lead the Rams to wins of 25-12, 25-17 and 25-18. Making the long drive for both teams even more beneficial was a fourth set that NAU won 25-16.
Hillyer’s destructive swing on the volleyball left NAU players staggering backward as she hammered home numerous kills in the opening set, including two in a row that gave the team separation in the middle of the set. Foutz, as she always has, hit the floor numerous times for diving digs that helped the Rams.
In the second set, Foutz took the serve with the set close at 20-17. She held serve the rest of the way en route to the 25-17 win, and she helped CSU serve for the set point with one of her diving digs. After the match, Foutz had bruises and cuts, just as she did after so many high school matches on the same floor.
“Maddi played so good tonight. She was incredible,” Hillyer said.
Fans in Bayfield also were treated to a hitting clinic from CSU’s Breana Runnels, a 5-foot-10 sophomore outside hitter from California. She racked up double-digit kills and helped the Rams close out the second and third sets.
NAU, of the Big Sky Conference, stormed out to a 10-3 lead in the fourth set and led 14-7 before CSU head coach Tom Hilbert called a timeout. Out of the break, Runnels hammered a kill that temporarily brought the Rams to life. Hillyer had two big blocks to get the Rams within 16-9 and 17-10, but a hungry Lumberjacks team was determined to head home to Flagstaff with a set win.
“It was awesome to play in front of this crowd and play a really good team like Colorado State,” said NAU head coach Ken Murphy. “In the first one, they just kind of steamrolled us and were playing really well. In the next two, I thought we left a ton of points out there being jittery and a bit off. It was good to see us settle in. (CSU) messed with their lineup a bit and that affected them, too, but I thought we capitalized on every opportunity they gave us in there in the fourth.”
Still, with the Lumberjacks up 22-13 in the fourth set, the ladies from Bayfield wouldn’t back down. Hillyer added one more huge kill before checking out one last time, and Foutz went back to the service line and served up a few strong balls and added a few more digs to the delight of the fans.
After the match, the two teams met with fans and signed autographs. It was a special night that Hilbert might try to make happen again during Foutz and Hillyer’s time at CSU.
“These kind of events that we get to do are so important for people like Maddi and Kirstie,” Hilbert said. “We came in last night, they all got to see Bayfield and Durango today. Then to play a good match with a great turnout, it’s really good for our program and Northern Arizona, too, to get some exposure like this.
“I’m just glad nobody got hurt four-wheeling over at Hillyer’s today.”
Foutz will enter her sophomore season next fall, while Hillyer still has two years of eligibility after using a redshirt her freshman year.
Foutz, a 5-foot-5 defensive specialist played in 32 of the team’s 33 matches and made 12 starts last season. She finished with 1.59 digs per set.
During her redshirt freshman year, Hillyer was named the Mountain West Conference’s newcomer of the year, and she has been an all-conference selection each of her two seasons with the Rams.
She has led CSU for two consecutive seasons in blocks with 1.46 per set, and she ranked No. 17 in the country in blocks in 2017. She also was second on the team with a .383 hitting percentage, which ranked No. 33 in the nation.
While the Rams will have national tournament goals again next season, at least for one night the game was all about having fun in their hometown.
“When I was growing up, there wasn’t a lot of volleyball that I was exposed to,” Hillyer said. “To do this for the little girls and put my influence on it, it was a really cool and neat experience.”