IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Payton Hielscher received an ‘A’ for the self-portrait she drew for an art class in her freshman year at New Trier.
Had she graded it, though, her grade-point average would have taken a major hit.
“It was bad,” says the 6-foot Hielscher, a junior in her second season as the starting setter for the Trevians’ varsity volleyball team, which improved to 18-2 (6-0 in the Central Suburban League South) with its 24-26, 25-18, 25-17 defeat of host Niles North on Oct. 2.
“It didn’t look anything like me.”
Years ago, as a member of a Wildcat Juniors Volleyball Club, a coach wanted to see what Hielscher — an outside hitter at the time — would look like as a setter.
Hielscher gave it a go … hesitantly.
“I didn’t like it at first,” the Winnetka resident recalls. “It was … different. But once I learned more about the position and got used to it, I liked it, liked the responsibilities that came with it, as well as the decision-making involved.”
It didn’t hurt that her favorite babysitter happened to be a superb setter for New Trier. Taylor Tashima (NTHS, Class of 2014), now a senior setter at Northwestern University, sat and watched and talked volleyball with Hielscher when Rick and Katie Hielscher needed a responsible Trevian to look after their daughter.
“Taylor and I are good friends, and we keep in touch,” says Hielscher, adding they’ve met for breakfast a couple of times at Cupitol Coffee & Eatery in Evanston. “I don’t have a big sister, but she’s like one to me.”
Katie Hielscher isn’t like an assistant varsity coach to Payton.
The setter’s mother is an assistant varsity coach at New Trier. Katie Hielscher and Trevians head coach Hannah Hsieh are in their 22nd season together. They won their 600th career match together earlier this fall.
“Growing up with a mother who is a volleyball coach has been beneficial,” Payton Hielscher says of the 5-10 Katie, who, like Rick (a 6-8 hoopster who played basketball at Princeton), attended New Trier. “We’d talk about the sport at home, or wherever we happened to be, and I remember how happy she was after wins.”
In NT’s 17th win this season, Hielscher lofted 18 assists and finished with three kills and a block in a 25-19, 25-21 defeat of visiting Niles West on Sept. 28. Niles West had defeated New Trier in a Class 4A regional championship match and ended up in the Final Four last fall.
“First of all, there’s her height … Payton uses that to her advantage,” Trevians junior outside hitter Taite Ryan says of the all-CSL South selectee in 2016. “She can dump it or go to any of her hitters. What also makes her effective as a setter is her unpredictability. You never know what she’s going to do with the ball. Teams do not enjoy competing against a setter like that.
“What I especially like about her as a setter — and I’m not the only one on my team who thinks this way — is her ability to make it easy for me to hit. She makes my life, my job as a hitter, easier on the court.”
Hielscher had recorded nearly 300 assists through the match with Niles West last week. Her ace total, also through Sept. 28, ranked second among teammates.
“Her demeanor in matches,” Hsieh says, “is always a calm one. Payton never gets frazzled, never gets rattled. Even-keeled — that’s what I think of when I think of Payton on a volleyball court. You want a setter with those qualities. Plus she’s bright, a great server, and she sets up her hitters well.”
Hielscher considers volleyball the ultimate team sport. It is, after all, illegal in most states to pass your own dig, set your own pass and then kill your own set.
“Every player on a volleyball team depends on everybody else,” Hielscher says. “I love that about volleyball. Everybody has to contribute if you want to be a successful team. Everybody touches the ball.
“Everybody,” she adds, “has a presence.”
Hielscher, immediately following a New Trier point in matches, likes to turn toward her teammates, clench both fists and pump both arms.
Freeze that frame.
Now draw that, Payton Hielscher.
Notable: No fewer than four Trevians struck for three kills in New Trier’s 25-19, 25-21 defeat of Niles West’s visiting Wolves on Sept. 28. Junior setter Payton Hielscher, junior middle Gillian Klise, junior outside hitter Taite Ryan and junior outside hitter/right-side hitter Maddie McGregor paced the attack to avenge a 2016 postseason loss to NW. McGregor smacked a team-high four aces, one more than Taite’s total. Klise popped for three blocks, and senior right-side hitter Grace Kapsimalis finished with two kills and two blocks in the Central Suburban League South contest.