Avery Bridge wasn’t a natural when she first began setting and serving a volleyball. At 18, she’s in the elite class and headed to the Mount Royal Cougars in Calgary as a freshman.
“I started in Grade 6 at Hillview and I was iffy,” she laughed. “My older brother, Alec McFarlane, taught me the proper way to hit balls in the backyard. I would watch him in high school games. It’s such a faster game and I really enjoyed watching him.”
Bridge fastracked her game under Keith Becker in Grade 8 with the VSS Panthers. She helped the Cats to the provincial tournament her final two years, earning fourth- and seventh-placings. She also lined up on the beach with the Kelowna Junior Heat, coached by Tammy Thomas.
Mount Royal head coach Sandra Lamb was first contacted by Bridge during Avery’s Grade 11 season. Lamb scouted Bridge at the Best of the West Tournament in Kelowna and received recommendations from Thomas, also Bridge’s club coach.
“The No. 1 thing that stands out is how hard she works, and she’s a really good kid,” said Lamb. “She definitely gets into the ball (smacks it hard). She’s a slight player so we have to work on her strength. She gives it her all and we’ve already seen improvement since we started Aug. 11.”
On a weight program at Fitness West earlier this summer, Bridge drew interest from York University Lions in Toronto and Briercrest College Clippers in Saskatchewan, but chose to stay close to home. She is getting a scholarship and will study health sciences with hopes of working as a naturopath doctor.
“It’s (Mount Royal) a new program; they’re just getting into the CIS so we’ll be a young team which is exciting,” said Bridge. “They have a massive gym with a rock climbing wall right across from the dorms. I’ll be staying in the same dorm as Toni Vandenbrink (Kal Laker grad who has transferred from the PacWest Douglas College Royals of New Westminster.”
The Cougars are entering year three in the CIS, finishing two games out of the playoffs last season, at 7-15, good for 10th in the 12-team league. They placed a surprising fourth in the Canada West tournament in their first year.
Lamb said the six seniors are all starters, but she will insert a freshman if they show they deserve a bigger role. Bridge, a six-footer who turns 19 in late March, is up for the challenge with an all-round game.
“I like to hit the ball hard and serve hard. I don’t set very often because the power hitter is the centre back and you get lots of action. My defence is pretty good. I dig the harder serves and I hit against bigger girls.”
Thomas is high on Bridge, who took second in beach doubles with Quincy Birker of Kelowna in the Okanagan High Performance league.
“Avery is a hard-working athlete, dedicated to being a continuous student of the game of volleyball,” said Thomas. “A powerful hitter and server, Avery brings an infectious, positive energy that helped her succeed, especially on the beach where the mental aspects of the game are truly the toughest.
“I believe she will only continue to thrive and bring great energy while being coached by Sandra at the Mount Royal. She will be a great addition to the Cougars and we will miss her back here in the sunny Okanagan.”
The smiling Bridge, who gets big support from her folks – Jody and Sheila Bridge – spent the summer working and racing paddle boards at Kalavida Surf Shop. She used to play basketball and was a goalie with the high school soccer Panthers last season. She also enjoys downhill skiing and hiking.
The Cougars head to Arizona for matches against Grand Canyon Lopes and Arizona State Sun Devils from Sept. 2-4 and play a pre-season tournament, Sept. 18-20 in Edmonton before the Dino Cup, Oct. 2-3 in Calgary.
Mount Royal opens the Canada West schedule Oct. 10-11 against the visiting Brandon Bobcats.
Lamb is also excited about signing Vandenbrink, who boosted the Kal Lakers to a provincial title two years ago. Vandenbrink sent the Cougars a video after her stellar freshman season with Douglas.
“She is very physical and her work ethic is right there; she’s one of the hardest-working girls out there. She will play outside, either left or right. Her ability to jump is pretty dynamic and once we work on her arm swing, she will pack a powerful punch.”
Vandenbrink was named to the PacWest All-Rookie team as she led the Royals to a playoff berth.