After growing up on a farm in Strasburg, Indiana, sophomore setter Haylee Mathis decided she did not want to be a farmer’s wife.
“I came from a really small town and I wanted to get out of there,” she said. “I wanted to make something of myself.”
When she started playing volleyball in third grade, her dad encouraged her to play in college.
“My dad kind of implanted the whole idea of playing college volleyball,” Mathis said. “He was telling me, ‘Hey you should go to college for this one day.’ So my dad’s the one that gave me the push.”
However, Mathis said she didn’t start loving volleyball until eighth grade.
“I kind of had this epiphany,” she said. “In the middle of a play I was setting and then I got done with the play and I was like, ‘Wow I think I really, really like this.’”
After that, Mathis said she was all in and played volleyball for her high school and club teams.
“I played softball for a long time,” she said. “But I had to quit in high school to be able to play club volleyball. I don’t regret it.”
During college recruitment, she fell in love with Washington State.
“I really liked Pullman,” Mathis said. “I liked how it was small and the campus is really pretty.”
Despite her love for the environment at Washington State, she did not enjoy her time there.
“I hate to say it,” she said. “There’s a reason I’m not there anymore. I don’t think it was the right fit for me. I realize that now because I’m much happier here.”
Finding a new program was tricky. The first time Mathis reached out to Idaho head volleyball coach Debbie Buchanan, she said she didn’t have any spots open. Mathis went back to the drawing board.
In high school she was recruited by Indiana State.
When Mathis went back to Indiana State looking for a spot, they gave her one, and she verbally committed.
“And then I get this phone call from the WSU head coach saying, ‘Hey, Debbie Buchanan wants to talk to you. I think she might have a spot for you,’” Mathis said. “So I call her and the next day I’m here on a visit and I commit. So I had to decommit from Indiana State again.”
Mathis said she knew Idaho was the best option.
“Haylee’s super-fast, she plays high above the net, but she’s also doing multiple things for us,” Buchanan said. “She’s setting and hitting, she does a great job closing the balls and can be a dynamic hitter for us. So we’re trying to throw her in and do a little bit of everything, but she’s been doing a great job with it.”
Mathis said the playing styles are very different between the Vandals and the Cougars.
“I think they take a lot of pressure off of my role as a setter,” she said. “It’s a pretty grueling role anyways. I have a lot to put on my shoulders.”
Mathis said she isn’t expected to be perfect every play at Idaho.
“That’s all that’s been in ingrained in my mind,” she said. “I have to set a perfect ball every single time.”
Mathis said the hitters at Idaho are trained to hit what the setters give them, taking the pressure off her.
“That has helped me a lot mentally,” she said. “Especially taking a year off and coming in.”
Mathis played six sets for the Cougars in 2014 and took a redshirt season in 2015.
She handed out a season high 28 assists last weekend.
Off the court, Mathis spends her free time watching movies and playing with her corgi, Theo.
“I love being outdoors and I’m kind of a nerd,” she said. “I love looking at the stars, so sometimes I’ll just go out (to the Arboretum) at night and just look at the stars.”
Mathis is majoring in agricultural biotechnology. Right now, she wants to conduct research in the field.
“That major opens opportunities in a really broad spectrum,” Mathis said. “I could do so many different things.”
Growing up on a farm sparked her interest in crops.
“I always said I do not want to be a farmer’s wife,” she said. “I don’t want to work the farm, none of that. I really enjoy the science behind it. I like knowing how to get more yield from crop and how to breed crops.”
Mathis said playing Washington State has become easier with time since leaving.
“I was definitely more nervous last spring,” she said. “I feel like they’re definitely judging me. But now I’m just like, ‘whatever, I don’t even care.’ There’s always that burning passion to beat WSU.”
Mathis said there’s no question that she’ll be cheering for the Vandals Sept. 17.
“I’m a Vandal now,” she said.
The Idaho volleyball team plays Washington State 1 p.m. Saturday as part of the WSU Cougar Challenge in Pullman.
Luis Torres contributed to this report.
Tess Fox can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @tesstakesphotos