Volleyball has always been an important part of Blaire Hiler's life.
The 2007 Buckeye Central graduate spent her childhood hanging out in the gym with her mother, Colonel Crawford volleyball coach Amber Christy. She started playing in the fourth grade, and after graduating as a three-time All-Ohioan for the Buckettes, spent four years as an outside hitter for the University of Kentucky.
But her career didn't end there.
Last February, Hiler, 23, accepted the position of director of volleyball operations with the University of Arkansas. Tonight she'll be on the sidelines when the Razorbacks, 22-9, compete in the first round of the NCAA Division I tournament for the first time since the 2006 season. The team left for Kansas on Wednesday and will play Wichita State at 5 p.m.
"I know for Arkansas it's been a struggle rebuilding every year since I was a freshman to a senior at UK. They kept getting better each time we played them," Hiler said. "I'm so attached to the girls and the staff, and just knowing they finally made it and how much it meant to them is a great experience.
"There wasn't a dry eye in the room during the selection show when they announced it on ESPNU."
Hiler made four trips to the NCAA tournament playing for the Wildcats, and this year she gets to experience the journey from a coaching and administrative perspective.
"Basically I do anything and everything," Hiler said. "I schedule all of the girls' meals, travel plans and anything to do with classes if they are having difficulties in any area of life or dealing with being a student athlete.
"I am their best friend, sister, mom and coach all at the same time."
The four-year Wildcats letterman was also a part of Kentucky's regional semifinal squad in 2009. Hiler recorded single-game career highs her senior year of 18 kills and seven blocks at Georgia and 14 digs against Kansas State. She now considers herself 5-for-5 in the postseason, four trips with Kentucky and one with the Razorbacks.
Arkansas coach Robert Pulliza recruited Hiler to play for Kentucky in 2007, as part of a class that was ranked as the No. 8 incoming group in the nation by PrepVolleyball.com. Pulliza was an assistant coach for the Wildcats until he accepted the position of Razorbacks head coach in 2008. Hiler kept in touch with Pulliza, and when the director of operations position opened, it was a perfect fit. Prior to joining the staff at Arkansas, she was a volleyball customer service rep with Nfinity Athletics.
"It's kind of special being my first year here involved with the coaching staff and players," Hiler said. "We are all a family and very close. They are always in the office because they have never experienced the NCAA tourney. This is the first year, so it's neat because the seniors are Robert's first recruiting class since he's been at Arkansas.
"He's helped rebuild the program, and to finally experience the NCAA tournament, they are always in the office asking me about it."
Hiler hopes to stay involved with volleyball at the collegiate level, with sights set on one day becoming a coach. During her time with the Wildcats, she had goals of becoming a director of operations, and worked hard to get there. She also had a bit of advice for anyone pursuing a career in the sport.
"If you love volleyball and want to stay in volleyball, it's all about who you know and how they can help you find positions," Hiler said. "Always keep trying to find positions, and even if you don't get it the first time just keep going. Your coaches help you a lot. Craig Skinner, the head coach at Kentucky, was always helping me."