Paige Steinmetz was ready to play varsity volleyball before she got to high school.
But the work she’s put in since arriving is what has helped her become one of the top players in the state of Wisconsin.
Steinmetz had a historic season both individually and as a part of the Chi-Hi volleyball team this fall in helping the Cardinals reach the Division 1 state tournament for the first time.
But her season features one more honor as she is the 2022 Chippewa County Player of the Year.
Paige Steinmetz grew up as the youngest in the family with four older brothers.
But her brothers Drew, Jordan, Ben and Lucas weren’t just athletes, they were stellar athletes each finding their own success on the football field, hockey rink and baseball diamond with Chi-Hi’s programs.
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Sports have always been a big part of the Steinmetz family as has competition — everything from playing a game outside in the summer to a milk chugging contest became another chance to see who would win.
“Literally anything would be a competition,” Paige said.
As the youngest in a group where siblings weren’t shy about knocking another down during a contest, Paige learned early on the importance of toughness.
“There’s a lot of instances where we would be playing a game and then they would tackle me and they wouldn’t let me cry,” Paige said. “It’s like ‘come on, let’s go’.”
Chi-Hi coach Luke Heidtke first saw Steinmetz when she and other members of the program’s strong junior class were at an offseason camp hosted by the Cardinals. It was Steinmetz’s raw talent and determination that quickly helped her make an impact with the coach to the point where he made a bold declaration.
“She made me hope Wisconsin would adopt Minnesota rules and I could put her on varsity as a seventh grader because she had the skill to do that absolutely,” Heidtke said. “If I could’ve, I would’ve. As a seventh and eighth grader she would have played on our varsity team.”
Steinmetz played her freshman season under unusual circumstances amid the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic in the fall of 2020. But as a freshman she led the team in kills and passer rating while finishing second in aces and digs. One year later the Cardinals had a breakout campaign, notching a 37-3 overall record in advancing to the Division 1 sectional finals before falling in five sets to River Falls. Steinmetz was a Wisconsin Volleyball Coaches Association Division 1 All-State honorable mention selection and a first team All-Big Rivers pick.
The Chi-Hi volleyball team started this season with big goals.
Returning many key players from last year’s sectional finalist, the Cardinals made no bones about the fact the team wanted to go somewhere no Chi-Hi team had gone before — the state tournament.
Chi-Hi overcame an early loss to River Falls in the championship game at the Menomonie Sprawl at the start of the season to upend the Wildcats five days later to start Big Rivers play. That win would set the tone in an unbeaten conference title campaign — the first league title for the program since 2013. The Cardinals rallied from 2-1 set deficits twice in sectionals, first beating Hudson in the semifinals before mounting a charge to beat the Wildcats to clinch the program’s first trip to state.
Operating with a deep and talented front row, the Cardinals liked to share the wealth among their strong array of hitters. But when push came to shove, the team didn’t mind leaning on Steinmetz.
“Many times (setter) Maddy Bauer would be like ‘is it OK if I keep going to Paige?’ and I’d say yes please,” Heidtke said. “Please do because she’s going to put the ball away for us.”
Steinmetz was at her best when it mattered most. The junior opposite had seven kills in the final set over Hudson and had a similar strong closing set against River Falls. At the state tournament, Steinmetz got the chance to show the entire state what she could do as she finished with a game-high 19 kills and 19 digs as the Cardinals fell in five sets to Burlington in the quarterfinals. For her efforts Steinmetz was chosen to the Division 1 all-tournament team and was later named as a unanimous selection to the WVCA Division 1 All-State first team and was chosen as the Big Rivers Conference Player of the Year.
“I think all of us we knew what our goals were at the beginning of the season,” Steinmetz said of the season. “We created those for us and to have the entire community behind us when we were doing those things it just makes the experience so much more memorable. All of us will remember it for the rest of our lives and there’s so much pride that can be taken in that.”
Steinmetz has made great gains since entering high school, but perhaps no bigger than in her ability to read blocks and adjust on the fly.
“If you leave a seam in the block against her she’s going to hit it every time and her vision is just incredible,” Heidtke said.
Steinmetz is a unique company just past the halfway point of her prep career.
She has already competed on three different state tournament teams including a state championship as a member of the Chippewa Falls/Menomonie girls hockey team in 2021.
Following the state title on the ice, the Chi-Hi softball team advanced to the Division 1 state semifinals in the spring of that year. Steinmetz’s traits such as her athletic ability and competitiveness make her great at each sport she plays, but it’s also the lessons she has learned that takes it to another level.
“She just has an uncanny ability of taking in information that any coach gives her and then applying it quickly,” Steinmetz said.
Steinmetz loves all the sports she plays but admits volleyball is her favorite, citing the speed of the game and the importance of teamwork.
“One of my goals was to go to state in every sport and I did that because of the amazing teams I’ve been on,” Steinmetz said. “It’s amazing but I definitely think there’s potential for this year because I still have two sports and next year for sure.”
Following the end of volleyball season the junior had two days to relax before jumping into her next sport with the first day of girls hockey practice. Chippewa Falls/Menomonie returns a strong cast of players this season including many that helped the program win a title just 21 months ago. When the spring comes the Cardinals will also bring back the vast majority of a lineup that dominated on the way to a Big Rivers Conference title a season ago and advanced to the sectional semifinals.
And not to look too far ahead but next fall the volleyball team will bring back many starters from this year’s state team — players that now have an idea of what it takes to get to state while still having the motivation of how this season ended.
All three of those aforementioned teams are set up for success now and in the future — and the presence of Steinmetz is a big reason why.
“I said it last year with Sami (Perlberg) and I’m going to say it again – I’m really glad to have her (Paige) coming back and I’m glad she’s on our side of the net and not the other page,” Heidtke said.