Ava Wright has heard all the stories about her dad, Tyler, leaving home at 16 to play for the Western Hockey League Swift Current Broncos.
She is going to trump her dad as the 13-year-old heads to Vancouver for the Whitecaps FC Girls Elite Super REX Program.
Tyler, a fiery forward, spent four years with the Broncos and was chosen in the first round of the 1991 NHL entry draft by the Edmonton Oilers. He spent 14 seasons in the NHL and is now Director of Player Development for the Detroit Red Wings.
“We’ve talked and it’s funny I am moving up before him,” laughed Ava, who turns 14 in September. “My dad moved out at an early age and my grandparents are saying ‘You’re moving even earlier and that’s crazy.’”
Wright, a 5-foot-9 winger-turned-fullback, will be immersed daily in soccer as the Super REX Centre puts top Western Canadian female prospects aged 13-18 through a standardized national curriculum in Burnaby, site of the regional EXCEL Centre (REX). The program is built on four pillars of development: physical, technical/tactical, mental and social/emotional.
Wright has played up a division most of her career and will leave her Thompson Okanagan FC United EA Sports Premier League team for the elite experience.
“I’m really excited,” said Ava, who will attend Grade 9 at Burnaby Central and live with teammate Bella Lister’s aunt in Coquitlam. “I feel like I’m nervous, but I’m away a lot anyways so I also feel like I’m ready to take this step. It’s a real good opportunity to become a better player, make friends and meet new people. My folks (mom Christie) are saying ‘Go for it.’ I’d love to play for the national team and play college.”
A huge fan of pro soccer and Brazil in the recent World Cup, Wright and a touring team played four exhibition games in England earlier this summer.
“We toured Man City and Man United. We saw the locker room and they showed us where they entered and the prime seats. The Man City visiting locker room is grey colours so they wouldn’t be amped up for the game.”
Born in Columbus, Ohio when her father was a star with the Blue Jackets, Ava is eager to tweak her game.
“Skill and speed are my strengths. I probably have to work the most on my finishing. I’m pretty calm with the ball.”
The REX program is headed by former New Zealand national team and FIFA Women’s World Cup player Emma Humphries, Whitecaps FC Girls Elite head coach and women’s academy director. Humphries has been to Vernon several times scouting players like Wright.
Wright, who just completed Grade 8 at Kalamalka Secondary, also excelled in high school volleyball and basketball. She is cycling and working on her core before leaving Aug. 26 for Burnaby.
TOFC GM Kai Tolpinrud said Wright has soared in soccer with a special quality that sets her apart from the rest.
“Her desire and work ethic are second to none and it is no surprise to me at all that he has been invited into the Whitecaps Elite Super REX program full-time in Vancouver,” said Tolpinrud. “She has developed into a special soccer talent and even more importantly, a quality young lady. Ava is a perfect example of the opportunities that developing within the BC Soccer and CSA Player Pathway provides.
“Ava began with the North Okanagan Youth Soccer Association in their start-up program. She gained extra training through the Vancouver Whitecaps Okanagan Academy and quickly excelled. She was a standout with Vernon United’s Development Program before trying out and making Thompson Okanagan FC of the BC Soccer Premier League, playing a year up. I remember her being so nervous at our tryouts, but once she settled in, she showed her true ability.”