Carter Hills wasn’t expected to step in and fill the shoes of Regan Fathers.
After all, last season Fathers was the Canadian college player of the year and led the RDC Kings to a silver medal at the national finals.
But Hills is making his own mark, and it’s been impressive.
The 19-year-old from Legal has become one of the dominant right side hitters in the ACAC, sitting with 3.01 kills per set, which is seventh in the conference, and 226 kills, which is sixth.
All that after not starting in the early portion of the season.
The Kings experimented early on starting Patrick Toze on the right side before moving him to power.
Inserting Hills into the right side has given the Kings one of the best offences in the league.
Kings head coach Aaron Schulha wasn’t around for much of the first half of the season as he battled on some health concerns, but has been impressed from what he’s seen from Hills in the second half.
“He’s an outstanding rookie and continues to improve every time out and his addition really helps balance the roster.
“Moving Pat to the left side and with Carter taking over that spot and with our other options like Ben (Holmes) or Shea (McIntyre) on the left side and our middles (Mark De Wit, Cody Boulding and Dillon Gauci) it makes us a deep team and tougher to scout. It’s something we didn’t have the last couple of years.”
Hills didn’t expect to replace Fathers, but said he was disappointed when he wasn’t starting early in the year.
“I’ve always been a starter wherever I played and when I wasn’t on the court it hurt,” said the six-foot-two left hander. “So I decided to work that much harder and push the guys. As well I was getting used to everything. It’s weird when things aren’t usual, but once I got into it and things started to click and it went from there.
“As well Tom (setter Wass) and I started to get a connection. It feels good out there … it’s exciting.”
Hills indicated he had to change his attack as well.
“When I was in high school and club I just hit the ball as hard as I could,” he said.
“Here when I go up I have to mix it up. When teams scout me they see I hit cross-court and down the line because when I go up I see where the block is and try to hit where they aren’t.”
Hills is in rookie of the year talk.
“From what I’ve seen it would be crazy if he’s not in the running,” said Schulha.
Hills got into volleyball in Grade 7 in Legal plus played club in St. Albert. In Grade 9 he enrolled in school in Morinville and in Grade 10 joined the NAVC Griffins Volleyball Club in Edmonton.
He had success at the high school 3A level, finishing second in the province in Grade 11 and third in Grade 12. He also had success with the NAVC program.
Carter indicated he moved to NAVC because of the coaching.
“I really liked the coach and I felt it was important to be comfortable and in the best atmosphere to develop as an athlete. It wasn’t necessarily important to win, but finding the right coach for you. Everyone has different needs and in our case the coach developed us as players and into a provincial calibre team.”
Schulha contacted Hills around this time last season.
“We went back and forth and I decided to have a visit. I came for a few practices and felt this would be good for me.”
Carter is taking Bachelor of Education Science, which is only a one-year program.
“If I stay in it I will have to transfer to the U of A next year,” he said. “But I may transfer to another program.”
Schulha of course hopes he does.
“It would be tough to see him not continue to play and of course we don’t want to lose him either. You give him another year he’ll be dominating this league.”
The Kings finish their regular season this weekend, entertaining Medicine Hat College. The women get underway at 6 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. Saturday, followed by the men.
Both teams are looking to finish strong as they head into the playoffs Feb. 27 — the men at Lethbridge and women at Medicine Hat.
The Queens will finish second to Biercrest in the South while the Kings and Lethbridge are tied for top spot at 18-4. If they tie Lethbridge . who hosts Briercrest this weekend, will be the higher seed.
Schulha is looking for a strong finish.
“Last weekend we played a clean match against Briercrest on Saturday and we hope that carries over to this weekend, We feel we’re peaking at the right time and it’s always the plan to be playing your best volleyball at this time of the year.”
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org