Game time

GAME TIME: Pat and Linda Hilley with the granddaughter, Sydney, who lead the Badgers volleyball team in 2021 to their first NCAA Division 1 national championship. 

Linda and Pat Hilley of Fergus Falls, spent the evening of Dec. 18 on the edge of their seats, watching the Wisconsin Badgers versus the Nebraska Cornhuskers volleyball game. The outcome of that game would determine the Division 1 national champions.

“Totally nerve wracking, I’ll tell ya,” laughed Pat, recalling watching the game with his wife.

Their granddaughter, Sydney Hilley, was one of the stars on the court that night.

In five intense, adrenaline-inducing sets, the Wisconsin Badgers won their first national title. During an incredible final volley, Sydney gave a perfect set to her teammate, who put the game away with the winning point. They were champions.

“We’re very proud of her, obviously,” explained Pat. “But, we’re proud of all the girls (on the team). I was really impressed with the chemistry on the team … how much they cared about each other and how much they wanted to win it together.”

Excellence in athletics runs in the Hilley family. Sydney’s father, Mike, was a star basketball player for the Fergus Falls Otters in the 1980s, Pat played football and basketball, and Sydney’s other grandfather, Jerry Cawley, was a baseball player for the Minnesota Gophers, helping them win the 1964 NCAA championship.

“She could have been a good athlete in any sport,” said Pat, who watched her excel in athletics from a young age. “She really could do any sport.”

Sydney played soccer, basketball and volleyball. But, eventually decided to put her time and energy into volleyball and it certainly paid off.

Not only did Sydney lead the Badgers to victory and their first NCAA Division 1 national championship, she has also won the prestigious 2021 Big Ten Medal of Honor, has been first-team all-American three times, is a two-time first-team academic all-American, has been named the Big Ten setter of the year for three years and has won multiple other awards both in regards to athletics and academics.

“The awards are coming in fast and furious,” said Pat.

“We couldn’t be more proud of Sydney’s academic and athletic accomplishments,” shared Linda. “She has worked so hard to achieve these goals. She is a kind, compassionate and a loving granddaughter.”

Sydney’s success continues off the court. She received her undergraduate degree in genetics and genomics and is currently working toward her masters degree in applied biotechnology.

2021 was her last year on the Badger volleyball team and she certainly left on a high note.

“I can’t believe it’s gone this fast,” shared Pat, who will miss watching Sydney’s games.

Pat and Linda have many other athletic grandchildren and they plan to continue watching their games and look forward to cheering them all on. “We’ve been watching for a long time,” said Pat, “and I guess we’ll be watching for many years to come yet.”

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