TRIBUNE PHOTOS: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Kim Hill (left) is introduced by director Jim Hartner at a gathering last week of youth volleyball players from her former club. The U.S. star, who went from Portland Christian High to Pepperdine University, signed autographs for her fans on a visit to the city in between stints as a pro player in Turkey and the U.S. Olympic team tryout camp.Seventy volleyball players and their families cheered and clapped when Kim Hill walked into Reynolds Middle School gym Thursday evening.

Hill, a rising star with the U.S. national team, is one of the most decorated athletes to call Portland her home, and people were excited to take photos and get autographs.

Hill thought it was going to be a small affair, so she was surprised to see so many waiting for her.

“I thought I would go say hi to a couple of girls at practice,” she said. “It snowballed, but it’s really cool.”

Hill grew up in Portland and went to Portland Christian High. She attended Pepperdine University, where she played volleyball and graduated with a major in religion.

In 2014, she was MVP of the world championships — after the 6-4 outside hitter helped lead the U.S. women to their first title.

Jim Hartner, director and coach of Hill’s old club team, organized Thursday’s event at the last minute. Red, white and blue balloons, American flags and a framed photo and jersey welcomed Hill home. The gathering included members of the Adidas NW Juniors volleyball club — known as Nike NW when Hill played her youth volleyball.

“I don’t know what to say,” said Hill, addressing the crowd. “Thank you for letting me come today. It’s always great to come home to this city and community.”

TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Kim Hill signs autographs for fans at Reynolds Middle School.She signed photos, volleyballs and shirts while talking and laughing with each person waiting patiently for their turn with her.

“I am seeing so many faces here that I didn’t think I would ever get to see again,” Hill said. “It warms my heart and makes me so thankful to see these groups and the people who guided me when I was young.”

The club has several teams, with the top one being the Adidas NW 18 Matt, named after Hartner’s late son; that team just won the regional championship. The girls in attendance were ages 10 to 18.

“It’s fun to talk about what school they’re going to, what level they’re at, and what age group,” Hill said. “I competed against some of their schools, and some play for small schools like I did. It’s nice to relate to them on that level.”

Hill arrived after leading her club team, Vakifbank Istanbul, to a league championship. She was the Turkish Women’s Volleyball League 2015-16 MVP.

“It’s really crazy,” Hill said, “volleyball is the second-largest sport in the world after soccer. We go overseas and play and have great experiences with the fans.”

Soon, she will leave for Los Angeles and the final round of Team USA tryouts. There, the roster of 20 will be cut to the 12 women chosen to represent the United States at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Hartner always has been one of her biggest supporters.

“When I saw her play for the first time, I knew she could be the best player ever,” he said.

Hartner introduced her to the crowd, sharing stories from when she was still playing in high school and what her college recruiting trips had been like. He sees Hill as the perfect person to represent what can be accomplished.

Hill, 26, was the 2014 USA Volleyball Female Indoor Most Improved Player. Last year, she helped the U.S. win bronze at the World Cup and gold at the FIVB World Grand Prix.

“You can see the type of kid she is,” Hartner said. “It’s not just about her athleticism — it’s the way she carries herself and gives back to the community.”

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Twitter: @chriskeizur

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