COURTESY: FIVA - For Portland native Kim Hill (right), MVP of the 2014 world championsips won by the U.S., next up is a tryout for the 2016 Olympic team. Female professional volleyball players wear a cloak of anonymity in the United States.

Even after the national team won the 2014 FIVB World Championships in Italy — the first time ever for a U.S. side — there was little fanfare.

“The L.A. Times had an article a couple of inches long, and that was the only mention,” says Kim Hill, the ‘14 World Championships most valuable player. “It’s a little frustrating at times, especially when youth volleyball in the States is so big.There are so many young girls and boys playing the sport. It’s weird there isn’t much in the way of role models to look up to.”

Hill, at least, is one.

The 6-4 former Portland Christian High standout has played professionally in Europe the past three years and is among 20 players competing for 12 spots on the U.S. Olympic team that will compete at Rio de Janeiro in August.

Hill, 26, gets home about twice a year for a week at a time. She was back this week before leaving for Anaheim, California, and the Olympic team training camp. Her parents, Bradd and Terri Hill, moved from their Northeast Portland home to Camas, Washington, after Hill left for Pepperdine University in 2008. On Friday night, she convened with them and one of her three sisters, Kelsey Hill, to watch home videos.

“There was one from Disneyland — four little girls running around,” says Kim Hill, sipping on iced coffee at a downtown Vancouver, Washington, Starbucks. “And old sports videos of me and my sisters playing club volleyball and basketball. We were laughing so hard — oh my gosh.”

Kim was the youngest of the four Hill girls who starred in basketball and volleyball at Portland Christian through the 2000s. (Kelsey, 29, lives in Portland; Caitlin Volk, 31, lives in in Turlock, California, and Shelby Hill, 33, lives in Long Beach, California)

Kim started out playing youth soccer and basketball and added volleyball when she became “too tall” for soccer in seventh grade. She played for Mount Hood Volleyball Club to start, and later joined the Nike Northwest Juniors, with whom she was discovered by college scouts.

At Class 2A Portland Christian, Hill’s athletic exploits were of legendary proportions. She led the Lady Eagles to a state championship in basketball as a senior and back-to-back state titles in volleyball as a junior and senior. Hill won Gatorade Oregon Player of the Year honors as a senior in volleyball and was a two-time 2A player of the year in both sports.

“I loved Portland Christian,” Hill says. “I had the best experience ever. I wouldn’t have changed it for anything. Since it was a small school, I was able to play multiple sports, and I got to do student council and a bunch of other activities.”

Hill passed on scholarship offers from most of the Pac-12 schools to attend Pepperdine in the West Coast Conference. She was a first-team All-American and WCC Player of the Year as a senior.

“One of the best decisions I ever made,” says Hill, who helped the Wave reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament as a senior for only the second time in school history. “It was a similar situation to high school — a small school, but the volleyball level was still pretty high. I was able to do other things, meet a lot of people in other areas of school that maybe I wouldn’t have at a bigger school. I loved it.”

Hill spent the summer of 2013 with the U.S. national team, then began her pro career with a season in Poland in 2013-14. She rejoined the national team in May in preparation for the World Championships in Italy.

“Early in the summer, I didn’t play well in some tournaments, and the team wasn’t playing well,” says Hill, who was battling for a starting outside hitter job.

At the World Championships, “it all came together, for both me and the team,” she says.

The United States won the Worlds for the first time in history, Hill taking home the MVP trophy.

“It’s still a little bit unbelievable to me,” she says. “The most incredible experience of my life.”

Hill wound up playing professionally in Novara, Italy, with Olympic teammate Alix Klineman in 2014-15.

“The fans there knew us from the World Championships,” she says. “That was really fun. The volleyball and lifestyle were great.”

Hill returned to the national team last summer, with the U.S. earning third place in the World Cup in Japan. Only the first two teams — China and Serbia — qualified automatically for the 2016 Olympics. But the U.S. got its spot by winning the NORCECA Olympic qualifier in Lincoln, Nebraska, in January.

Hill, meanwhile, played her third professional season in Istanbul, Turkey. Her team, Vakifbank, won the Turkish Championship and placed second in the CEV Champions League EuroCup. The Turkish league was at a slightly higher level of competition than the Italian league, “and I’d always wanted to play in Istanbul,” Hill says. “I had (national team) teammates who loved playing there. It was on my bucket list.”

“I didn’t have a good season until the very end,” Hill says. “I didn’t start most of the season, but the last month of the season I finally started playing well and earned my spot for the rest of the season. Nice to end on a high note.”

Hill loved her time in Istanbul, population 14 million.

“It’s a huge city,” she says. “People everywhere. It’s crazy. It’s loud. But there’s so much to do, so much to see. It’s so international. We’d play one or two matches a week, but we had at least one day off to go sightseeing and explore, which we did a decent amount.”

European women’s volleyball players make good money, with the top pros earning in the high six figures. In Istanbul, Hill also had a car and her apartment paid for.

“I paid only for food, gas and incidentals,” she says. “You’re not spending much.”

Hill will be back in Istanbul for a second season after signing a one-year extension to her original one-year contract. It’s a good lifestyle and an adventure.

“You miss out on a lot — friends’ weddings and that sort of thing,” she says. “But I look at it as a short time in my life that I get to do this. It’s an incredible opportunity. I won’t get to do this ever again. You just enjoy where you’re at and know you’ll get to do the normal stuff later.”

No player has an automatic spot on the Olympic team. Training camp starts next week in Anaheim, and the 12-man roster is expected to be named about a month before the start of the Games. Hill’s chances?

“I like to think good,” she says. “Anything can happen. I’ve heard stories about people sliding in at the last minute, so you never know. I don’t want to get too caught up in it all.”

Hill played her final game in Turkey on April 30, so her body will get about a 10-day rest.

“It will be interesting to see what happens once I go back into the gym and start training,” she says. “Everyone says in an Olympic year it’s more tense, more cutthroat. But our group is such a team. I can’t see it changing. But everyone’s going to be really pushing it.”

Hill envisions a scenario where she plays professionally for four more years, participates in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games and calls it a career. That could be extended if she opts to play in the two-woman sand volleyball pro league.

“The beach is a lot easier on your body,” she says, “and you’re not hitting the ball as hard as you can every play. You can play until you’re a lot older.”

For now, though, it’s all about making it to Rio, and writing another chapter to the Kim Hill story.

keggThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Twitter: @kerryeggers

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