HELENA -- Rebecca Cleveland has learned a lot about Audrey Hofer over the past four years.
The head coach of the Helena Capital volleyball program, Cleveland has seen the ins and outs of her star setter's game on the court, but there was one thing she was pleasantly surprised to learn about her student-athlete off the court.
"Something that I actually heard a couple of years ago on a bus ride is that Audrey harmonizes and has the most beautiful voice," Cleveland said. "She mentioned in passing one day that she knows how to play the fiddle. I mean, she is just a multi-talented kid, and to have that music ability and love for it's just really cool. It's just another side of her that I think a lot of people don't know about."
Those closest to Hofer have likely heard her soothing vocals alongside the strumming of a guitar, a talent her father, Derek Hofer, put on display back in April.
Without quite as much school, volleyball, basketball and track for @audrey_hofer I was able to pull her singing life out of retirement a little bit. Been a few years. Loving the small things, and some dusty talents. Last half of a Hot Rize tune. Thanks at @JamesHempfling pic.twitter.com/lzot9TtCrS— Derek Hofer (@heyhofer) April 12, 2020
But the majority of the state recognizes Audrey Hofer for her volleyball prowess -- the standout setter for Helena Capital's three-time Class AA state volleyball champion program that won a AA record 71 consecutive matches. And that's what recognizes her as the 2020 MontanaSports.com female athlete of the year.
"Even looking back at the skill that she had in middle school and junior high levels, she just had a really strong knowledge of the game, really solid base of skill and was confident in leading an offense even prior to high school," Cleveland said of Hofer, who finished her senior season as the Western AA most valuable player this fall. "So, coming in with that experience and a great direction having played under her mom [Tiffany (Hopfauf) Hofer] for club, and Tiffany had a great career as a player and coach, too, so it's a volleyball family that she comes from."
In other words, Audrey Hofer was almost destined to shine on the courts.
Tiffany Hofer was a standout three-sport athlete at Hardin High School who became a two-time all-American at Carroll College. She's mentored athletes at Carroll, Helena High and at the club level, where she's coached her daughter nearly every year since fourth grade.
"Just having my mom, she's the one who introduced me to the sport, she's the one who taught me how to love the sport and how to play the sport. And so, anytime anything happens, all I can think about is just how grateful I am for her and how much I love that she taught me this and just how grateful I am," Audrey said of her mother.
Mom's tutelage, along with mentoring from Cleveland, Amy Heuiser and others, have paid dividends.
Helena Capital finished third at the State AA volleyball tournament Hofer's freshman year, where she saw significant playing time and learned from senior setter Celina Sanchez.
"She's who helped me ease into the varsity spot," Hofer recalled. "It was so much fun to just be able to have that senior role model."
The following fall, Hofer was running the show for the Bruins.
Capital went 34-2 en route to the first of three state titles, with Hofer amassing 828 assists, 162 digs, 110 kills, 54 aces and 42 blocks. Named the Western AA MVP and first-team all-state setter, she also posted a kill percentage of .386, eventually earning the prestigious Montana Gatorade volleyball player of the year honor.
"I think she was one of seven, I believe, seven sophomores in the nation to receive that Gatorade nod. So, you know, what a great representative for the sport in the state and for our school," Cleveland said.
It was only the beginning.
Hofer and the Bruins won the next two state championships, defeating rival Helena High in straight sets in 2019, and finishing with a gritty five-set win over Great Falls CMR this November. Capital became only the fourth three-peat in Class AA (Missoula Sentinel 1985-88, Billings Senior 2005-08, Billings Senior 2012-14), while Hofer picked up two more all-state honors and the Western AA's MVP award.
The Gatorade volleyball player of the year award, which went to teammate Paige Bartsch a season ago, won't be announced until at least the spring after the COVID-19 pandemic postponed many seasons across the country.
While Hofer is a solid candidate to win her second Gatorade honor, she added perhaps a more impressive distinction to her resume: American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Under Armour Girls High School All-American.
"It's incredible. Like I said, it's nothing I ever imagined," Hofer, who signed with the Montana State volleyball program, said of her prep career. "All I wanted coming into my high school career was just to have fun, become a better volleyball player and just go show what we have. And being part of that, the environment, the culture and everything in that program, was just so overwhelmingly positive, all of that. And it just is leaving me with incredible memories."
"I actually got my package (Wednesday night) of all the gear, because we didn't get to play the game, you know, and so, they still sent me all the gear that I would have got," she continued, referencing the AVCA All-American selection. "And oh my gosh, I am shocked. I'm so incredibly grateful and so blessed to have achieved this, and just to be, like I said, with the people who have made me this way -- all my coaches, all my teammates and everyone."
Cleveland admits she's been blessed with a bevy of talent in Capital's volleyball program, which stems from an advanced youth and club program. Hofer and fellow seniors -- Noel Teders, Addy Meredith, Katie LaFave, Dani Bartsch and Paige Bartsch -- raised the bar for the Bruins' program, setting expectations for years to come.
Though Cleveland admits one player doesn't win a championship, and certainly multiple played a role in Capital's success, Hofer was the "quarterback for the offense, a dependable teammate and dependable athlete."
"Her legacy, and I could say this for so many of the young women in our program, it's about the quality and character," said Cleveland. "The skill is awesome, the accolades, you know, the accomplishments on the court, creates those memories and gets those banners in the gym, but I would say the quality of human being and young woman that she is is paramount."
"This game has given me so much more than I could ever imagine. It's given me all of my best friendships. All of the struggle and triumph in my life has revolved around the lessons it's taught me about life, about teamwork, leadership and just growth and all the fun memories," said Hofer. "Just everything that comes with it, the playing, the bus rides and just the sport, like how much joy, it fills my heart."
That's music to any volleyball lover's ears.