TWIN FALLS — Legendary College of Southern Idaho head volleyball coach Heidi Cartisser has died, a stunning and devastating blow to one of the nation’s elite volleyball programs, which saw their coach as a mentor on and off the court.
According to a Facebook post attributed to her family, she died in her sleep. Cartisser was 44.
“Our whole staff is in complete and total shock,” CSI athletic director Joel Bate said. “It is a huge loss. It’s a loss of a great person, first of all. It’s a loss of a great coach, a loss of a friend, a loss of a teacher, a loss of a mentor. She taught more than just volleyball.”
Cartisser, who played for CSI from 1991 to 1993, had just finished her 22nd season as a collegiate head volleyball coach and her 12th at CSI. She led the Golden Eagles to NJCAA titles in 2009, 2012 and 2015, a third-place finish in 2014 and a second-place finish this past season. Her record at CSI was 359-89, and her teams made six NJCAA tournaments.
Cartisser’s teams won seven Region 18 championships, and she was named the Region 18 Coach of the Year four times. She also earned three American Volleyball Coaches Association West Region Coach of the Year awards, and she received District Coach of the Year honors this fall.
“We had lessons of really what a coach is. A student-centered individual that gets a lot out of her players,” Bate said. “She was just a great teacher of all the things behind the scenes that need to get done.”
Marie Fujii was a setter for CSI from 2011 to 2012. Those were the best two years of her life, she said over the phone Tuesday.
Fujii grew up in Hawaii and went back after attending CSI. Those were her only two years living on the mainland, and she struggled to adjust.
Cartisser made Fujii feel right at home. The coach would often host team dinners, and though practices could be grueling, Fujii enjoyed them.
Cartisser’s motto was, “Make good choices,” a line she frequently uttered after practices. Fujii didn’t always heed that advice, but Cartisser helped steer her focus away from parties and toward the classroom.
“She helped guide me to be the person I am today. She molded me,” Fujii said. “There was something about Heidi, it’s unexplainable. She had this character about her that made you feel like you were her own child.”
Cartisser lost a significant amount of weight in recent years, which made Tuesday’s news all the more shocking to Fujii and E’Laisah Young, a freshman middle blocker on this year’s team.
Young grew up in Indiana, and like Fujii, she had a difficult time adjusting to her new, faraway home. Cartisser helped Young gain comfort in Twin Falls, giving her “a family away from my family,” Young said.
Cartisser was a disciplined coach, Young said, and she often yelled at her players. But Young never felt intimidated or demeaned. Cartisser always seemed to be coming from a good place, and she valued player growth above all else. When Young felt homesick or frustrated with her performance on the volleyball court, Cartisser helped guide her in a happier direction.
“I’m still in shock. It doesn’t seem real,” said Young, who spoke over the phone from Indiana. “I feel like when I go back, it’ll hit me, and I’ll break down. And when I break down, the one person that helps me with my breakdowns won’t be there anymore.”
Cartisser’s husband, Jim, has been an assistant coach under her since she took over the program in 2006. They have five children: Cody, Canyon, Cason, Cailey and Carli.
Funeral arrangements have not been announced.
Several current and former CSI volleyball players have expressed their sadness and gratitude toward Cartisser on Twitter:
Sophomore outside hitter Jojo Cruize:(tncms-asset)de14f372-e50f-11e7-9870-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
Sophomore libero Esti Wilson:(tncms-asset)98873ef4-e510-11e7-82d7-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
Sophomore middle blocker Maysie Rongen:(tncms-asset)86c02f6a-e514-11e7-ac4e-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)(tncms-asset)3bdabc84-e511-11e7-9752-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
Freshman libero Makayla Bradford:(tncms-asset)addef534-e511-11e7-beb3-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
Freshman setter Elle Nesbitt:(tncms-asset)09f24936-e510-11e7-82af-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
Freshman middle blocker E’Laisah Young:(tncms-asset)509e39f8-e510-11e7-a124-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
Freshman outside hitter Lacey McEwan:(tncms-asset)e1679aec-e510-11e7-af25-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
Former right side/middle blocker Ashelyn Jones:(tncms-asset)d7ee24e8-e512-11e7-ae94-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
Former middle blocker Jesse Seumalo:(tncms-asset)1b63a040-e513-11e7-a0c6-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)