In eighth grade, reality started to kick in for Aliyah Carter, who’s now a freshman with the Kansas State volleyball team.
Just one year after getting started in club volleyball, she received her first college scholarship. It was the exact moment that Carter knew she was talented — and talented enough to play the sport at a high level.
“Around seventh grade is when I really started enjoying volleyball,” Carter said. “I decided to go into club and just be more competitive. I just wanted to play to the best of my ability with that competitive style. In eighth grade, I got my first scholarship for college and that’s when I realized I’m kind of good at this sport and I can help myself in the long run by continuing to play volleyball and excelling at it.”
Carter knew if she wanted to succeed at the next level, she needed to devote herself to getting better athletically. In high school, Carter came to a crossroads. Growing up as a soccer fanatic, her original plans were to play soccer instead of participating in track and field. But she knew track was the best option for future endeavors.
“In high school, I actually wanted to play soccer,” she said. “I had to decide between track and soccer — and I knew track was going to make me more athletic on the volleyball court. I think it helped me improve with my jumping ability — I think I can jump higher because I did track. I’m more explosive and faster because of it too. Overall, it just made me a better athlete.”
Much like the narrative she is writing for herself at Kansas State — one where she excels at what she puts her mind to — Carter excelled in track. She claimed Iowa state titles in the long jump and placed in the high jump.
Her performances — which also include two straight 4A state titles in volleyball — made her one of three finalists for the 2019 All-Female Iowa Athlete of the Year Award which honors the top multi-sport female athletes in the state.
With accomplishments following her to Manhattan, Carter graduated high school ahead of schedule to join the Wildcats early — prior to the fall season in 2020. Her determination was to learn the system and find out a way to get on the court as a freshman. She wanted to help the team — no matter the role — from the start.
“I knew that coming in that I wanted to be on the court — whether that be if I’m playing three rotations, six rotations or just as a serving specialist,” Carter said. “I wanted to help my team any way I could. … I have high expectations for myself so I can’t say that I knew I was going to play, but I knew I was going to hold myself accountable to be the best that I could possibly be.”
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From the start, it was evident Carter has talent — recording five-straight double-digit kill games to start the season, including a freshman record 26 kill game against nationally-ranked Texas in that fifth game. She was able to do all of this standing at 5-foot-9, which is shorter than the average 6-foot-1 outside hitter.
All of the hard work Cater put in during her freshman year and prior paid off, as she was recently honored as the Big 12 freshman of the year. Cater also helped lead K-State to its best Big 12 Conference finish — third place — since 2008 in the fall — but she knew she could still get better.
From the outside, fans saw her as a dominant offensive player at the net.
She knew she was more than just that.
“Ever since I started playing the three rotations, I wanted to play the six rotations,” Carter said. “Suzie [Fritz] and I always talk about what goals I have and one of those — from the start of me being at K-State — was to eventually become a six rotation player. I wanted to do it as soon as possible, but also make sure I was ready for it.”
In the spring portion of the team’s schedule, she became a six rotation player. In a ranked match-up with Creighton in mid-March, Carter recorded her first double-double with 13 kills and 10 digs.
Head coach Suzie Fritz is pleased with the evolution of her star freshman.
“I think the thing I am most pleased with is how Aliyah’s all-around game is coming along,” Fritz said earlier this season. “This spring, we have started to ask more of her, as in her responsibilities. … In her case, every time she has an opportunity to grow, we see her evolving as a volleyball player.”
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Fritz also described Carter as fearless — something that goes back to the competitiveness trait she developed as a kid.
“She’s fearless. That might be the thing I like about her most,” Fritz said. “She’s done a nice job of competing — she doesn’t back down from a challenge. She’ll make a mistake, but she’ll come back and do something productive with the next one. That’s showing some nice maturity on her part.”
Carter finished the season as the team leader in kills (325) and points (353.5). She also tallied 86 digs, 35 block assists and five solo blocks. Her five Big 12 Rookie of the Week honors tie Wildcat great Kylee Zumach for the most in a single season in program history, while her six total weekly awards are the most by any K-State player in the Big 12 era.
Moving forward, Carter knows her evolution as a player, and this team isn’t done yet, saying, “It can only go up from here.”
For her, the next step is taking on a leadership role, even though she’s only going into her sophomore year. It’s a goal she’s set out for herself from the moment she stepped onto campus.
“I think that’s my biggest goal for me on this team is to be a leader,” Carter said. “Be someone people can look to for help — off and on the court. Like I said, I hold high expectations for myself. I don’t see it as, ‘Just because I’m a sophomore I have to look up to other people.’ Even though I do look up to other people on the team. I just hope that people can look up to me, too.”