MONTGOMERY – One day, Hilliary Fox hopes to be a dentist.
But even before she’s known as Dr. Fox, she already has a Ph.D in volleyball.
Fox, the former Barr-Reeve standout, recently completed her four-year career on the volleyball court for the Purdue Boilermakers as an integral cog on one of the best teams in the country.
Though Fox and her teammates fell just short of their final four goal, it was a terrific season for Purdue. The Boilermakers advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament for the second time in four years, scoring big wins on the home courts of opponents Missouri and Illinois before falling to eventual national runner-up Wisconsin.
While on paper Purdue might have looked like an underdog against undefeated and fourth-ranked Missouri on the Tigers home court in the second round of the NCAA tourney in early December, Fox and her teammates didn’t see it that way.
“The selection show, when we saw our draw, and we were so excited, that’s the draw we wanted, it was perfect. People who don’t know volleyball, I think, were worried, because they saw we were playing Missouri, an undefeated team. But people who know volleyball know Big Ten volleyball is the best volleyball around,” said Fox. “So we knew going into that game that we were better and we were going to prove that, and we beat them in three. I think they were a little shocked, but we weren’t. We knew it was a stepping stone and that we were going to make it there.”
Purdue beat the Tigers in four games to advance to the Sweet 16 and a matchup with Illinois on the Illini’ home court. Less than a month early, Purdue had fallen to Illinois 3-0 in Champaign, but this time, Fox and friends reversed that result with a 3-0 win. Fox said the atmosphere in the NCAA tournament was incredible, even when the Boilers were facing hostile environments.
“It’s amazing, I’d rather have more people there than less people there, even if they’re cheering against us. We went to Missouri and they are black and yellow, and they had that place packed. We just went in there saying ‘That’s black and gold for us, that’s not black and yellow for Missouri’ so that was a really big positive for us.” said Fox. “And when we went to Illinois, that was close to home, and our band and our cheerleaders and a huge amount of fans came. That was a really fun atmosphere.”
The run came to end, though, against another Big Ten team, Wisconsin, in the regional final at Illinois by a 3-1 score on Dec. 14. Wisconsin would go on to fall in the national championship game to Penn State, capping a tournament that was dominated by the Big Ten.
Fox said playing against Big Ten competition was a key to Purdue’s postseason success. The conference sent eight teams to the NCAA Tournament, and seven Big Ten teams reached the Sweet 16, the most ever by any conference.
“It’s such an advantage playing the competition throughout the year. It builds you up, it builds your strength up, you had to play the Big Ten back-to-back during the season, so it your kind of used to that once you get to the tournament.”
As a senior, Fox played in all 31 matches, including starting 15 matches, and was second on the Boilermakers in digs. While playing for the Lady Vikings, was Fox was known as the big hitter who rained devastating kills down on helpless opponents. But at Purdue Fox got to see the other end of the spike.
“Everybody at Barr-Reeve knows me as the big hitter, the middle, who kind of creamed it down people’s faces. And I totally changed my position. I’m so glad that I did that. I got to experience two things during my life,” said Fox. “Basically in college, I was playing against who I used to be in high school, and that was a blast. People would say ‘I didn’t know you played back row’ and it was hard to change your mindset of how you play. But it was awesome to be able to do that.”
Had Purdue won the national championship this season there would have been some symmetry for Fox. Barr-Reeve once again advanced to the IHSAA volleyball state finals during the 2013 season, and on Nov. 9 the Lady Vikings claimed the school’s first team state championship in any sport. Though Fox was in Columbus, Ohio for a match that night against Ohio State, she was clued in to what was happening with Barr-Reeve.
“I was on the road, and my coach had it hooked up to the TV, and I got to watch the last game. I was so happy for the girls, but mostly happy for Amber (Barr-Reeve coach Amber DeCoursey), because she finally got it,” said Fox. “She’s one of my best friends, even if she was my coach in high school. I’m so happy she finally got it.”
Purdue volleyball took Fox very far indeed last May as the Boilermakers embarked on a 12-day European trip, including visits to some of the continents most famous cities such as Venice, Milan, and Paris.
“We went on trip to Europe last spring, that was life changing experience,” said Fox. “We went to six different countries and played against European teams. They’re almost 30 and they’re still playing.”
With her volleyball career over, Fox, a two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection, is on track to graduate in May with a degree in Organization, Leadership, and Supervision. After graduation, Fox intends to apply to dentistry school, or, if that option doesn’t work out, to pursue a master’s degree in business at Purdue.