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Kerry Eggers on Sports: Portland Christian grad waits out coronavirus in apartment complex with club teammates

COURTESY PHOTO: USA VOLLEYBALL - Outside hitter Kim Hill's remaining playing days are on hold in Italy, where she was starring for a club team and is awaiting the chance to go for a gold medal in the Olympics with Team USA.In balloting for dangerous places to be right now in the world, Italy is on a short list.

It's Kim Hill's lot in life for the time being.

And the U.S. volleyball Olympian from Portland is keeping a positive attitude about it.

"I'm OK for now," said Hill, who has been playing professionally in Italy. "I have a condo (in Long Beach, California). If I were home, I'd be alone. Here, I hang out with friends and teammates. I'm fine."

To date, there have been more than 35,000 cases of coronavirus and 4,032 deaths in Italy as of Friday. More than 60 million people are living in lockdown, including Hill, who is in Treviso, where she is playing professionally for Imoco Valley Conegliano.

"We're not able to do much," she said. "The whole team lives in the same apartment building. We're allowed to go to practice and back, and to the grocery store and back. We have (identification) papers in our cars that tell the police we're going to practice or whatever. It's pretty strict as of now."

On the day Hill participated in a Pamplin Northwest Sports podcast, she got busted. She and three teammates had slipped out of their apartments to a nearby park.

"We wanted to sit in the sun, because it was a beautiful day," she said sheepishly. "Somebody called the police on us. They came and took our IDs and reported us.

"I think they're going to go easy on us, but they gave us a stern talking to. It's definitely not allowed."

Hill is in her fourth season playing in Italy, her third with Imoco, which was leading the country's top pro women's league with a 19-1 record until play was suspended about a month ago. Officials asked Hill and some other top foreign players to remain to see if play can be resumed at some point.

"That's the hope, but it's looking a little bit grim as far as the Italian championships," she said. "We are one of two teams still training. Most of the foreigners have left Italy. Most teams are not allowed to train.

"We are still holding out hopes for Champions League (Europe's top competition), that we could play in mid- or late-May. I have little hope, but we'll see."

Hill is not just one of the premier players in Italy, but in the world. She has been a member of the U.S. national team since 2013 and led the Americans to their first title in the World Championships in 2014, earning Most Valuable Player honors. The 6-4 outside hitter was a key figure on the U.S. team that earned bronze at the 2016 Olympic Games and is expected to play for the U.S. again in the 2020 Olympic Games this summer — assuming they go on as scheduled.

Hill grew up the youngest of four sports-playing girls, turning to basketball and volleyball at Portland Christian High. She led the the Royals to the Oregon School Activities Association Class 2A basketball championship as a senior and back-to-back state titles in volleyball as a junior and senior. She was a two-time 2A player of the year in both sports, never feeling that attending a small school held her back from big-time goals.

"Part of it is, I never really had a big Olympic dream," Hill said. "Maybe I didn't develop skills as early as some people, but I got there eventually. It was a blessing I was able to play lower-level in high school and pursue other things outside of volleyball.

"I'm grateful. I had the best time ever in high school. Playing sports and also outside of sports, it was the best experience anyone could ask for."

Hill went on to a great career at Pepperdine, earning first-team All-America and West Coast Conference Player of the Year honors as a senior.

"It was so fun," she said. "It was like the best of both worlds. I got to play for a Division I school but with a small-school feel. It was hard at times. It wasn't always pretty. But, man, I had a blast in college. Some of my best friends on the team, we're still friends to this day."

In 2012, Hill graduated from Pepperdine and the next year she began a pro career in Poland in addition to duties with the U.S. national team. In 2014, it all came together for her at the World Championships in Italy — a U.S. gold and an MVP trophy.

"It's almost like a Cinderella story," she said. "To this day, I can't hardly believe it. A crazy ride, a crazy year, a crazy tournament. It was some of the most fun I've had playing volleyball."

Hill calls her experience in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro "indescribable. The Olympics are probably the coolest thing I'll ever do in my life. Every part of it was surreal."

Coming off its triumph at the 2014 Worlds, the U.S. team experienced a come-down at Rio, losing to Serbia in five sets in the semifinals. The Americans came back to beat The Netherlands for the bronze medal.

"We were disappointed, for sure," Hill said. "We could have gotten gold. I wouldn't say it was expected, but that's what our hopes were.

"We were proud of the bronze and happy to get a medal, but the bronze medal match was the hardest I've played in my life. Two nights earlier, we were devastated. I've never been that heartbroken in my life."

There was more disappointment in the 2018 World Championships in Japan, where the U.S. finished fifth.

"Our program is still kind of recovering from that," Hill said. "For some countries, fifth would have been a success. It was a huge failure for us. We had a tough time last summer reckoning with what happened the summer before. It was not good for us."

The U.S. is ranked No. 2 in the world behind 2016 gold medalist China at this point heading into the Olympics.

"There are some really strong teams — China, Serbia, Italy," Hill said. "We could handle ourselves against any of those teams if we're playing well, but it will be really tough for sure. The Olympics — God willing they happen — are going to be a battle, and they're going to be fun."

Will this be Hill's final season playing professionally?

"I'm thinking so," said Hill, 30. "For sure, I'll be done with the national team after the Olympics, and likely done playing overseas. I'm not totally closing the door. I want to keep my options open, but I haven't signed a contract for next season. I'm going to take some rest and reevaluate."

So what to do after volleyball?

"Isn't that the million-dollar question," she said with a laugh. "I have no idea, really. I'm assuming it will be a lot of trial and error with different careers or jobs, seeing what I like. I'm open to anything. I'm hoping something comes along, some good opportunity."

And will she make Long Beach her home?

"For the moment, yes," Hill said. "I'v always had this idea that I'll return to Portland, so I don't know. Anywhere on the West Coast, I think I'd be happy."

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