Rode

Rode: Lindsay Thurber Raiders setter Avery Hansen has deep volleyball roots

Growing up in a family where her father is one of the premier volleyball coaches in the country has its benefits for Avery Hansen.

Avery got into the sport at an early age thanks to Keith and has developed into one of the top high school setters in the province.

“Getting an opportunity to play early on built my initial skills and I was able to build off that,” said the five-foot-nine Lindsay Thurber Raiders star. “I became invested at an early age and it became a super big deal for me.”

Keith got Avery and many of her friends, who are also among the top players in the city, into the sport when he started the mini volleyball program.

“I really believe it was very important for Avery and the other kids,” Keith said. “It was an opportunity for them to have fun and develop the early movement skills.”

He also helped coach a ringette team for younger girls.

“That was important as well,” said Avery. “Playing other sports helped me develop in my volleyball career.”

Avery followed in Keith’s footsteps as a setter. He played in the ACAC with Grant MacEwan and later with the RDC Kings. He coached with the Canadian national program for several years and eventually took over as head coach of the Kings, leading them to a record 10 c0nsecutive CCAA championships.

“Dad played that position and so he put me into it and by Grade 7 or 8 it was my permanent spot,” she explained. “I think in the back of my mind I knew I’d always be one.”

Avery grew up around the gym.

“Growing up I was around the game but I didn’t really know how big of a deal he was until I saw him being inducted into the Hall of Fame,” she said. “I think that pushed me to prove myself even more.”

She did laugh when asked if Keith pushed her extra hard to play volleyball.

“He always said do what I wanted but here is a path and an opportunity if I work hard at it … it can be something for me.”

“And I loved the sport at an early age and got better and better at it to be where I am today and where I hope to be.”

Keith doesn’t take the credit for Avery’s complete development.

“I believe (LTCHS head coach) Kirsten (DeZutter) has done a great job with her … I really watched her take off this year,” Keith said.

Avery agrees her time with DeZutter has been a huge benefit.

“Kirsten is one of the coaches who have had the biggest impact on me, both when it comes to skill and mentality,” she said. “The team and school is like a big family and we all work together and she has certainly helped me develop.”

After missing last season because of the pandemic, this year is even more important.

“Missing last year we all missed a lot of development,” Avery said. “I played in Grade 10, then jumped to Grade 12. That Grade 11 year is important in all of our development.

“I’m just glad to be able to play my senior year. We didn’t play any big city teams so far, but getting an opportunity to compete in the provincials is exciting. It will be nice to see some players I played against in Grade 10.”

LTCHS is hosting the girls and boys 4A provincials next week.

Avery will play at the college level next season. but where is another question.

It would have been perfect for her to step in with the RDP Queens, but they have two high-level setters.

“As a King I was hoping she would be a Queen, but no matter where she plays she’s mature and will handle it,” said Keith.

There’s still a possibility she could be with the Queens, or even return a couple years down the road. She’s looking at getting into biology or nursing and RDP has an outstanding nursing program.

“I really haven’t decided on next year,” she said. “I’ve talked with three or four coaches but academics is important as well.

“It’s a big decision.”

No matter where she ends up she’ll fit in.

“She has always had a phenomenal work ethic and is a stable leader who doesn’t get wound up and does a good job of handling pressure,” said Keith.

“I think my strength is being able to keep a level head and remaining calm … knowing the end goal and getting there,” she said.

The fact Avery was able to watch the Kings over the years and see a number of players who went on to the national team, helped her.

“Men’s volleyball is different, but it was super exciting and after watching those guys I pushed myself that much harder to get to a higher level as soon as possible.”

But first, it’s provincials. LTCHS plus the next top team in the Central Zone will compete in the three-day affair which gets underway at 9:30 a.m. Thursday at LTCHS, Gateway School and Hunting Hills. The finals are set for Saturday with the girls at 5:30 p.m. and the boys to follow.

The provincials won’t be the final volleyball of the season for Avery and her dad. Keith is coaching Avery in the Queens U18 club program.

“That will be exciting having him coach me again,” she concluded.

Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at danrode@shaw.ca