TWIN FALLS — Heidi Cartisser’s sudden death on Tuesday reverberated well beyond the Magic Valley.
Cartisser was a head collegiate volleyball coach for 23 years, and she spent the past 12 at the College of Southern Idaho. She died in her sleep at her home Tuesday morning. She was 44.
Coaches from around the nation, especially the Intermountain West, have publicly expressed their condolences and shock in the 48 hours since. Cartisser earned a reputation as a fierce competitor who focused on player development, and she built close relationships within the volleyball community in her two-plus decades at the coaching ranks.
Kathy DeBoer, the executive director of the American Volleyball Coaches Association, didn’t know Cartisser personally, but she admired her work throughout her career.
“Heidi always looked like she was in a professional job. She dressed in a way that said, ‘This is important to me,’” DeBoer said over the phone on Wednesday. “These are little things, but they matter.”
Cartisser, who played for CSI, compiled a 359-89 record and three NJCAA titles with the Golden Eagles. She was named the Region 18 Coach of the Year four times and the NJCAA Coach of the Year three times.
This fall, Miami-Dade College’s Origenes Benoit was named the U.S. Marine Corps/AVCA Two-Year College National Coach of the Year after his team defeated CSI in the NJCAA title match. On Tuesday, Benoit asked DeBoer if the AVCA could give his award to Cartisser, DeBoer said. The organization couldn’t make that change, but DeBoer and her staff are exploring ways to honor Cartisser.
“It was generous and it was heartfelt,” DeBoer said of Benoit’s gesture. “That’s how much her colleagues care about her.”
During matches, Cartisser would often yell at referees for calls she disagreed with, and she’d scold players for mistakes they made. Sue Dulaney, the head volleyball coach at Salt Lake Community College, would sometimes feel anxious about her postgame handshakes with Cartisser whenever the Bruins defeated the Golden Eagles.
“We’ve had our battles, we’ve had our stare-downs, but we were both professional,” Dulaney said over the phone. “There was a kinder, gentler side to her that you didn’t always see on the court.”
Cartisser was demanding, but former players and opposing coaches never felt she was a ruthless, win-at-all-costs coach. She knew team success would come with player improvement, and she prioritized the latter.
“We’re that trampoline or stepping stone to that next level when kids maybe don’t have that option out of high school,” Dulaney said. “She brought kids in that she wanted to take to that next level, physically and mentally, and I saw them buying into that. They were disciplined.”
David Rehr, the head volleyball coach at Arkansas State, called Cartisser “a loving competitor.”
Before Arkansas State, Rehr spent nine seasons as the head coach at Blinn College in Texas. He played against CSI a couple of times, and his successor at Blinn was Erin Mellinger, who considered Cartisser her best friend.
Mellinger played under Cartisser for two years at Treasure Valley CC in the late 1990s. After a year at Lewis-Clark State College, Mellinger transferred to play under Cartisser again, this time at Chicago State University. Before taking the head coaching job at Blinn, Mellinger spent five seasons as Cartisser’s assistant at CSI. She is coming off her first season as TVCC’s head coach.
Mellinger said she and Cartisser talked over the phone four times a day. They had a ton in common, especially on the volleyball court.
“We’re both extremely, extremely competitive, that hate-to-lose attitude instead of that love-to-win attitude,” Mellinger said over the phone. “When I chose coaching as a career, she was a big part of that decision.”
On Monday, Mellinger gave birth to her third child, and Cartisser paid her a visit. As she left the Meridian hospital, she gave Mellinger a hug and said they’d talk later.
“Everything about her was normal,” Mellinger said, choking back tears. “Obviously, I was confused (the next day), and I’ve been devastated since.”
Funeral services announced
Cartisser’s funeral will be held 10 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 27, in the CSI gymnasium. There will also be a public viewing the day prior at the LDS 5th Ward Building, 50 East 100 South, Jerome, Idaho 83338, and another viewing will be held one hour before Wednesday’s funeral.