From the April 2005 issue, a profile of Tyler Hildebrand, then the best setter in the men's college game. Since this article was written, Hildebrand has played on the men's national team, tried his hand on the beach tours, coached some of the best club teams in the country, and most recently joined the coaching staff at his alma mater, Long Beach State and coached the most dominate beach duo on the men's side of the AVP this summer, Casey Patterson and Jake Gibb.
Tyler Hildebrand says the game has slowed down for him.
That’s good news for Long Beach State’s star junior setter and really bad news for anybody on the opposite side of the net.
“I’ve played in every game since I got here,” said Hildebrand. “I can remember freshman year there was a lot of stuff going on in my head. Now it’s a lot slower. Playing a lot of volleyball games, you get a lot of experience. That slows the game down and makes things easier.”
And boy does Hildebrand make things look easy out there. Since arriving from Mesa, Ariz., three years ago, the 6’4” Hildebrand has quarterbacked a few 49’er teams that won a total of 50 matches through mid-January. He’s led the nation in assists per game in each of his two previous seasons.
His tenure has included a trip to the NCAA title match last year in Hawaii. Hildebrand earned an ASICS/Volleyball All-American first-team nod last year and was the AVCA Newcomer of the Year in 2003. He’s a bona fide national player of the year candidate this year and already ranks third all-time on the Long Beach State career assists chart (3.736 through mid-January).
“Tyler has improved in almost every area,” said Long Beach State coach Alan Knipe. “His biggest improvement is in his ability to run an offense and not just set a ball. Tyler has always been a good setter. He came in as an athletic setter. His game within the game and his mental game have improved tremendously.”
Hildebrand acknowledges another factor in his maturation as a setter.
“I’m much more confident. That’s probably very important,” said Hildebrand. “On every play, the hitter makes the last play. If the hitter hits it out, I’ve got to build confidence and set the ball better. I can control that. If a passer passes the ball and it wasn’t perfect and I set the ball and it’s not perfect but okay and the hitter hits it out, I know it could have been a better set. It’s so different how I think now.”
Hildebrand isn’t afraid of the bad set.
“You make sets all the time and you make bad sets,” he said. “Bad sets happen sometimes. But it requires a lot of confidence to know you can make the next set perfect.”
But Hildebrand is far from ready to take any huge helping of credit for the success he has enjoyed.
“I’ve always said it’s the people that are around me,” said Hildebrand. “It’s always going to be the same answer. Since I’ve been here, I’ve been put in a situation where I’ve been playing with some of the best players in the country. It’s nice when your setter doesn’t have to run around all over the court. Since I have been here, we have gotten better or are as good at every position on the court. It makes my job easy. I know if I do make that perfect set, it’s a kill. The people around me make a big difference.”
Hildebrand also tips his hat to the Long Beach State coaching staff, especially setting coach Andy Read.
“I’ve gotten great one-on-one coaching since I’ve been here at every practice and Andy has been the main part of it,” said Hildebrand. “I’ve got faster hands now. It’s more difficult to read the direction of the set. The way I set with my hands is completely natural, but when I got here I was much slower. The coaches have made a big deal about getting quicker with the hand speed. I fought it a little bit, but once I bought into it I got better.”
Surprisingly, Hildebrand didn’t view being thrown to the wolves so to speak as a freshman as any sort of pressure.
“Not necessarily,” he said. “I thrive on competition. I’ve always said if the team is good enough and if we do the job, we are good enough to win. It’s the competition. If I can play the way I want to play, I can beat the people on the other side of the net. A major part is competing with yourself. Sometimes I’m too hard on myself. You have to compete with yourself and hold yourself at a standard you want to be at. If you don’t, I don’t think you can be effective. The only pressure is can you turn a pressure situation into competing.”
“Tyler’s ability to compete exceeds his ability as a setter,” complimented Knipe. “He’s a fabulous competitor. He sets the bar so high from a personal standpoint.”
At the same time, Hildebrand is thankful for the opportunity he had as a freshman.
“I had the opportunity that not a lot of people have,” said Hildebrand, who was recruited originally as a walk-on. “I went to Long Beach with nobody above me and just having to compete with another freshman. I was getting touches every single day in practice and getting better. All I had to do was compete when I got there and that’s the easiest thing for me to do.
“Looking back, I realize at the time that I thought I was better than I was. I thought I was doing an okay job. I can see how much I’ve improved and how much more difficult it was for me as a freshman. I can now say it may have been slightly overwhelming for me at the time.”
Back in the present, Hildebrand credits some of the success the program has enjoyed in recent years to the overall team persona.
“One of the best things about this place is how close the team is,” said Hildebrand. “We’re all close here. It’s not just a couple of guys hanging out, it’s every guy. Nobody on the team is an outcast. We usually go to places as 16 guys.”
Hildebrand is currently studying psychology and would like to coach at the college level some day.
“Everybody says psychology and coaching will work out. Those two together don’t do too much,” laughed Hildebrand. “I want to play as long as I can and do all the USA stuff I can. The World University Games was one of the best experiences I’ve had. But I would like to coach at the college level if I can.”
But first things first. Hildebrand got a taste of the national championship match last year. He wants more.
“That’s what you play all year for,” said Hildebrand. “It’s the opportunity everybody plays for. It makes you want to get back there and win it. I want to get back, but what’s really on my mind is getting better as a team and what I can do to help this team win.”
Knipe thinks the best part of the performance is still on the horizon.
“He definitely has not maxed out as a setter,” said Knipe. “He can run the whole gamut with what he wants to do. He’s got a lot of ability.”
According to Hildebrand, team chemistry is one major strength for Long Beach State. Here's his take on who is tops in some different activities.
Duncan Budinger. He gets games and plays them 24 hours straight and beats them in like two days.
One of the team's main hobbies is eating. It's a tie between Duncan and Robert Tarr. I've seen Tarr go through the 5-for-5 roast beef and fries at Arby's and not even struggle to put it down.
Originally published in April 2005