TWIN FALLS — The night before she died, College of Southern Idaho head volleyball coach Heidi Cartisser gathered with loved ones at a family Christmas party in Kuna.
It had been a rough day and she was tired. But after leaving the party just before 9 p.m., she stopped to see a friend and her baby before heading home to Jerome.
“That was the kind of person she was,” her brother Curt Prindle said. “She took herself out of the equation.”
Cartisser died in her sleep Dec. 19. She was 44 years old. She’s survived by her husband, Jim, and five children: Cody, Canyon, Cason, Cailey and Carli.
Hundreds of people — including family, friends, college employees, and past and current CSI volleyball athletes — attended the funeral Wednesday. A graveside service followed at Cloverdale Memorial Park in Boise.
Cartisser suffered for a long time with respiratory problems that led to heart problems, her family said during the funeral.
“It’s sad — she had the biggest, loving heart, but she was taken because of her heart,” Prindle told the crowd.
Her family members and church leaders remembered Cartisser as fiercely competitive yet humble, devoted to her family, a faithful church member, an excellent listener and someone who worked behind-the-scenes to help others.
Her sister, Kimra Combe, thanked funeral attendees for their outpouring of love and compassion. When she was asked to give Cartisser’s life sketch, she immediately said “yes.”
But later, she realized it would be a challenge. “How am I ever going to give a life sketch for someone so legendary?” she said.
Despite her accomplishments, Cartisser was incredibly humble, Combe said, and didn’t want to draw any attention to herself.
She was a head collegiate volleyball coach for 23 years, and she spent the past 12 years at CSI, where she had played as a student.
“CSI was more than Heidi’s alma mater,” Combe said. “It was her dream job.”
Cartisser had a 359-89 record and three National Junior College Athletic Association titles with the Golden Eagles. Beyond the evidence of success left in plaques and trophies, she left a mark on her players, Combe said.
Cartisser was a master at strengthening her players, Combe said, and she pushed them to do what they thought wasn’t possible on the court and in life.
She also had an amazing ability to listen to and read people, Prindle said. He said his sister listened and gathered information, which she’d use to figure out how to help others.
Prindle said there was “no fluff” with Cartisser and how she communicated. When she started losing weight, she asked her brother, “Why didn’t anyone tell me my butt looked so big?”
But she also had an emotional side. Prindle recalled her sister leading the music for their grandmother’s funeral. Cartisser couldn’t get through the songs or pretend to sing, and big tears rolled down her face.
The siblings also shared some common phrases Cartisser used to say, including “You know what?” and “Oh, that’s amazing.”
The overwhelming favorite, though, was “I love you more.”
A volleyball legacy
In eighth grade, Cartisser made the “C” team for volleyball. She told their mother: “This will never happen again.”
“Heidi was extremely competitive,” Combe said. She lettered in volleyball as a setter, and basketball and softball in high school.
She was a highly recruited student-athlete, and after graduating from Centennial High School in 1991, she played for CSI for two years.
Then, she attended Albertson College of Idaho on a scholarship, where she also played volleyball. She earned a bachelor’s degree in education.
Cartisser was recruited as head volleyball coach for Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, Ore. “She wasn’t much older than the players,” Combe said.
Cartisser recruited her sister, Combe, to play volleyball on the team and treated her just like the other athletes. For the first two weeks of practices, one team member didn’t even know they were sisters.
Cartisser made her mark as a young coach. “Heidi completely turned that program around,” Combe said.
Cartisser met her husband, Jim, at a recruiting trip in Las Vegas in 1997. He sent her flowers every week after that. They got married in 1998, and their first son, Cody, was born later that year.
A new opportunity arose in 2000 for Cartisser to be head volleyball coach for a Division 1 school, Chicago State University. It meant moving the family across country and leaving behind their roots in Idaho.
Her second son, Canyon, was born there. Just two days later, Cartisser was on a road trip with her new team for their first tournament. And during her last year in Chicago, the team placed fourth in its conference.
In 2004, the family decided to move back to Idaho, and Cartisser was briefly a stay-at-home mother. But then, a job opened that was too good to pass up: head volleyball coach at CSI.
In addition to coaching, Cartisser was working on a master’s degree in athletic administration, which she had expected to finish in spring 2019.
CSI Athletic Director Joel Bate was one of the speakers at the funeral. He told coaches, athletic directors and referees in the crowd: “Heidi loved you guys.” He told current and past CSI volleyball players: “This is very special.”
The funeral service was streamed live online so other former volleyball players from all over the world could watch, Bate said.
After hearing the news of Cartisser’s death, “everyone had their world turned upside down,” he said. “She touched many.”
Bate received many phone calls and emails that day, including from the NJCAA and a nationwide volleyball association.
It was difficult to know what to say about the coach and friend at the funeral, Bate said, “especially when it’s difficult to accept the fact she’s gone.”
An image kept coming back into his mind: Cartisser as a coach on the sidelines pointing one finger in the air with confidence to signify her team was one point away from victory.
As a coach, Cartisser was tied to the process — not just the outcome, Bate said. She mastered a delicate balance, he added, between being a teacher and friend.
Cartisser — the first born of the family — was an obedient child, wanted to please others, was responsible and set high expectations. By age 8, she was babysitting her younger sister and brother.
Prindle and Combe shared stories about their sister, including from their childhood in the Treasure Valley. They talked about family camping trips, singing in the car to stay awake on the way back from a volleyball tournament, getting bunnies from their parents as a Christmas gift, going off campus in high school for lunch, and how Cartisser enjoyed fashion.
Prindle said he was really embarrassed Cartisser was stronger. Once when he was in ninth grade, his sister proved that at their grandparents’ house.
“She could take me,” he said. “She whooped me in front of my grandpa.”
Cartisser was also masterful with words, Prindle said. “Whenever we got into an argument, she would win.”
She displayed her competitiveness when the family played games, including in later years when they stayed up until 5 a.m. playing Settlers of Catan.
As children, Cartisser and Combe were often playing volleyball inside the house. Their mother would say, “Take it outside, girls,” Combe said.
Prindle doesn’t know if volleyball is played in heaven. But if so, he said, God has a coach who’ll take the angels to a celestial championship.
He wrapped up his speech by saying, “Heidi, I love you more.”
As the pallbearers — including Cartisser’s three sons — carried the flower-draped casket draped out of the gym, the crowd held up a finger, just like Cartisser did so many times on that very court.