Mediapolis graduate became a leader for the UNI women’s basketball team.

CEDAR FALLS — Heidi Hillyard was ready for two more weeks of basketball.


The University of Northern Iowa senior forward was in Moline, Illinois, with her teammates, preparing for the opening round of the Missouri Valley Conference Women’s Basketball Championships at the TaxSlayer Center on March 12.


The tournament never got under way.


The day the tournament was set to begin, the NCAA pulled the plug on the postseason due to the COVID-19 outbreak.


And just like that, the Mediapolis High School graduate’s career was over.


It left Hillyard with a void to fill, seeking some kind of closure that would never come.


“It’s something that I never had completely finished my season yet. We always do well in the postseason, so I was planning on playing for a couple more weeks,” Hillyard said. “They decided that this was the best decision because they didn’t want to have something happen. It’s crazy to think that I’m done now. I still can’t wrap my head around it.”


Hillyard finished her senior season averaging eight points, three rebounds and one assist per game. She stepped into a leadership role the last two seasons, something she hopes will transition into the working world.


“I tried to be a leader on offense and defense, especially this year being a senior,” Hillyard said. “I tried to do my role, which was to get rebounds, play good defense and score when I got the chance. I’m happy with it. There were usually 10 of us playing, so we had to share minutes. I’m a competitive person, so I am grateful for the opportunity to play at UNI. I am really blessed to have had that opportunity.”


Hillyard learned the game playing for Todd Rogers at Mediapolis. She further honed her skills playing on AAU teams which traveled the Midwest, playing with and against some of the top prep players around.


But it was the lessons she learned while playing for the Bullettes which carried Hillyard to the NCAA Division I level.


“I am very thankful that growing up in Mediapolis I played with so many great teammates. That made me want to be a basketball player,” Hillyard said. “We had so much success together. I was very lucky to play for Mediapolis. That made me the player and person I am today. We had so much support from the community. It was just outstanding.”


Hillyard comes from a large family who supported her from start to finish.


With her basketball career now behind her, Hillyard is now looking forward to finishing out the semester, then joining the workforce.


“I got a job working for Smithfield. I will be working at the branch over in Webster City,” Hillyard said. “I start in June.”


While her career didn’t end quite the way she had envisioned it, Hillyard did go out on a high note. The Panthers beat instate rivals Iowa and Iowa State this season and ended her career with a victory over Missouri Valley Conference rival Drake on Senior Night on March 6 at the McLeod Center.


“Beating Iowa and Iowa State was big for us. That was a lot of fun. It’s always fun to play at Hilton Coliseum and we hadn’t beat Iowa in a long time,” Hillyard said. “We ended the season with a really good win against Drake on Senior Night. We went out with a win in front of our home fans. I guess it was the best situation of a bad situation. I had never ended the season with a win before, so I’m glad we played out best game in the last game. So I guess I’m not too upset with how things went.”