Aaron Hillier is a student at Indian River High School who loves sports - especially soccer. The grade 10 student has been playing the world's most popular sport most of his life and says he always thought that was his sport of choice. That was until about a year ago when Hillier started getting a new game: volleyball. Now, just a few short months later, the young athlete is headed to Moncton, New Brunswick, to join the best players in Atlantic Canada in one of the highest-level competitions in the country.
Aaron says he never really took a keen interest in volleyball before he started playing it seriously last year.
"I used to play on the high school team and stuff, and I used to enjoy that, but then I kept playing it and the more I kept playing, the better I got, and the more I enjoyed it," he said.
© Rudy Norman
Hillier started working with the Volleyball coach at Indian River High, Andrew Bursey.
"I started noticing the Aaron was getting more into Volleyball," he said. "But outside of his obvious skill level, the thing that really stuck out most to me was how teachable and coachable he is."
Bursey says Hillier possesses a key element that many players leave out of their game - the willingness to learn and grow in their skill and play by listening to their coaches and the people around them.
The coach says Hillier started to absorb everything he could about the game, and it eventually started showing through in how he was playing - to the point where Bursey eventually suggested that the young athlete should consider taking his talents to a higher level.
"In addition to coaching at the school level, I also coach with the Newfoundland and Labrador Volleyball Association (NLVA)," explained Bursey. It's a position he's had since 2009, and he says in his role as a high school coach, he's constantly looking for talented athletes to point to the program and encourage them to try out.
Bursey says no player from Springdale, to his knowledge, has ever made it into that NLVA program since its inception in 1997.
For Hillier, who travelled to Gander for the regional tryout, getting a call to the provincial tryout in St. John's was a shock.
After he emerged as one of the top players among the 40 or so athletes in the under-16 boys teams, he says it was an even bigger surprise.
"I really didn't expect to ever be on a provincial team," he said. "I tried out for the provincial soccer team a few years ago, and that's something I've played most of my life. Now I've been playing volleyball for a year and I'm already on the provincial team - it's crazy."
Hillier will join the other athletes for training in St. John's in July. From there they will travel to Moncton to represent the province at the Eastern Elite Volleyball Championships.
"You're talking about the best volleyball players in Atlantic Canada," said Bursey. "I've seen it, and let me tell you, it is incredible volleyball."
Hillier says he isn't nervous, but excited.
"I'm looking forward to it," he said.
No matter the outcome, though, he says the fact that he's only in grade 10 is encouraging because it means he still has time to hone his skills and work on his game for even more advance levels of competition in the future.
When asked whether he sees volleyball as a big part of his future, the young athlete didn't hesitate.