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Paige Hinnant signed last week with Briar Cliff University, a NAIA program in Sioux City

COURTESY PHOTO: GREG ARTMAN - Wilsonville volleyball player Paige Hinnant digs a ball during her senior year.

Wilsonville senior Paige Hinnant got emotional as she signed her national letter of intent to play volleyball in college.

"It has taken me so long to get where I am," Hinnant said last Tuesday, surrounded by her family, friends and coaches in the high school's library. "I've worked so hard. I've had so many amazing people supporting me throughout this whole journey. It brings tears to my eyes and makes my heart so happy, knowing that all of them are here today, watching me sign that paper. It seems like such a small action, but in reality it's something that I've always dreamed of, and knowing that they're a huge part of it is just amazing."

Hinnant has wanted to play at the next level since she was 12 years old, after attending her first collegiate volleyball match at Concordia University in Portland.

"I looked at my mom as soon as I saw them start warmups, and said, 'Mom, I want to do this,'" Hinnant recalled. "I've been enamored with the sport ever since. I think that's what really pushed me was that seed back then start to grow into something so much more. I was just enamored in how the team cohesively worked together. I wanted to find my group and my team. The sport keeps me going. It's something incredible, and I hope that everyone can feel that same feeling about something they're passionate about."

Hinnant, who lives with her parents and younger sister on the same street as her grandparents and uncle, thought she would go to college close to home.

She visited multiple schools in Oregon, Washington and Colorado.

"I didn't feel it, and I could feel that there was something better," said Hinnant, who through National Scouting Report connected with Lindsey Weatherford, the head volleyball coach at Briar Cliff University, a private, Franciscan liberal arts university in Sioux City, Iowa.

PMG PHOTO: DEREK WILEY - Wilsonville senior Paige Hinnant signed to play volleyball at Briar Cliff University.

Her phone conversation with Weatherford went so well that in September Hinnant decided to jump on a plane to Iowa to visit the Briar Cliff campus.

"I came back and I knew this was the place," Hinnant said. "This is where I wanted to be. I loved it. It's indescribable what I felt. There was like a familiarity. I felt at home already, which is crazy; I'd never been there. I didn't know these people, but somehow I felt so comfortable."

Hinnant was offered both academic and athletic scholarships to play at Briar Cliff, a NAIA Division I program, but needed a couple of days to really think through the decision before officially committing.

"It was me talking to my family with a big smile on my face and tears in my eyes and trying to explain to them how I felt," Hinnant said. "I think they are elated, and I'm just so happy that I found a place where I can call home as well. I've also grown up with such a huge amount of support around me, and I think at this point in my life I can finally learn to be more independent and find out who I really am. I'm really excited for that."

While Hinnant has dreamed of playing volleyball in college, there were obstacles along the way.

Her freshman year, she suffered a partial MCL tear. After the knee injury healed, Hinnant had two surgeries to repair a broken thumb and missed her entire sophomore high school season.

"It just killed me that I wasn't out there being able to participate," Hinnant said. "I decided to turn that into what can I learn from this, and it gave me a great perspective on what else you can learn even when you're not on the court."

Through club and high school volleyball, Hinnant has played nearly every position. She was Wilsonville's defensive specialist this fall as the Wildcats had their best season in the program's history, reaching the Class 5A state championship game.

Hinnant, who led Wilsonville with a 95.1 serving percentage, also was voted best teammate by her peers.

"I feel very privileged to have her on my team," said Wilsonville coach Nathan Blankenship. "Watching her blossom over the past three years has been a real pleasure. I remember last year, distinctly, we were playing a real tough opponent, one of our nemeses in our league, had a great hitter on their outside and Paige was playing left back, and she proved undoubtedly that she was a big game player. She thrived in those big games and that's where she plays her best ball.

"She has a wonderful attitude and is a wonderful teammate. She's always upbeat. She's always supportive of her teammates. Briar Cliff is going to get a great athlete and, much more importantly, a great person, a great teammate and a great student."

After college, Hinnant wants to go into family law, and plans on majoring in criminology and minoring in legal studies at Briar Cliff. She has been on Wilsonville's honor roll (3.5 GPA or higher) all four years of high school.

"Education always comes first for me and my family, and I was just so thankful that I have the chance to get both," Hinnant said. "It's the best of both worlds."

Other than cold weather, Hinnant said she is getting everything she ever wanted in a college from Briar Cliff.

"I'm just so incredibly blessed to have this opportunity, and I couldn't have asked for a better family and coaches and friends who have helped me along the way," Hinnant said.

Derek Wiley
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