Story and photo credit: Brad McLeod, Cranbrook Daily Townsman
As close as the men's and women's teams are in the College of the Rockies volleyball program, there are few players who make an impact no matter which team is playing. As a first year player, middle blocker Alex Avery hasn't got a whole lot of playing time yet, but he has certainly let his presence be known.
"Give me a 'C'... give me an 'O'..."
It's early November and Alex Avery is working his hardest to pump up the crowd before the women's Avalanche volleyball match against the visiting Capilano Blues.
"Give me an 'L'... give me another 'L'..."
The team is having a tough time at this point in the season. A year after winning the BC PACWEST provincial championship, the women are 2-3 and are having trouble proving that they should still be recognized as one of the best in the country.
"Give me an 'E'... give me a 'G'... give me another 'E'..."
The women have every reason to not be feeling great, but when they hear Avery they can't help but smile.
"Give me an 'O'... give me a… an 'F'..."
Avery's team won't be playing for another couple of hours, but he's already hard at work.
"Give me a 'T'... give me an 'H'... give me an 'E'..."
He's made this his job.
"Give me an 'R'... give me an 'O'... give me a 'C'..."
It's the first weekend that he's been in the starting rotation, and he should be nervous.
"Give me a 'K'... give me an 'I'... give me an 'E'... give me an 'S'."
His parents and even his grandparents have travelled miles to be here. He's received so much support and is so thankful for it all.
"WHAT DOES THAT SPELL?"
Avery first found out about College of the Rockies when he was in his final year of high school and desperately hoping to continue his volleyball career.
"I was originally talking with Medicine Hat College and then they decided they didn't want me," Avery says on January afternoon from the COTR cafeteria. Away from the bright lights of the college gymnasium on a Friday night, he's a lot more soft spoken. "I was helping coach my younger brother's club team and his coach used to go to our high school and he's a former [Avs] player.
"He said that COTR is super good and I should look into it. I started emailing the coaches and now I'm here."
Growing up in Irricana, Alberta and playing for George McDougall High School in nearby Airdrie, Avery had a lot of early success in volleyball with three straight zone gold medals, a trip to Provincials and being named his team's captain for his two final seasons.
It was with his high school team that he not only developed into a top-end player, but also learned how to make noise off the court.
His signature battle-cry "get out of your mind" is a product of that time. The phrase is one that Avery yells at the top of his lungs prior to most games. It never fails to get both the crowd and his fellow players hyped for the game.
"I started saying ["get out of your mind"] in high school and it kind of took off," he says with a sheepish grin. "All my teams loved it and it really brought the morale up. I feel it always got us excited and hyped up, so I just stuck with it.
"It just means get out of your mind — you know, go have fun, be crazy."
When asked what he thought his teammates would say about him, he laughs and thinks for a minute.
"They would probably describe me as outgoing or crazy," he says. "I feel they'd say that I help bring up the morale and energy on the team a lot and keep things loose on the bench."
When asked how he'd like them to think of him, he answers immediately.
"I'd like to be thought of in that way, but I'd also like to be thought of as someone who works hard," he says earnestly. "That's something I hold close to me."
While the Alex Avery that COTR fans have come to know and love is naturally energetic and silly, at his core he's a testament to grinding and to never giving up.
"I had some natural talent [for volleyball], but I definitely had to work really hard to get where I am," he says. "I rode the bench a lot at times in high school [and learned that] you just have to work hard to get your court time."
While Avery has experienced a lot of sitting on the bench with the Avs so far this year — or standing near the bench, he's not the type to relax much during a match — he has not let it discourage him one bit.
"You come into your first year knowing that you probably won't get a lot of playing time, so you just have to take that with open arms," he says. "So I do, and I try to bring a lot of energy to the team."
"I think it really helps the guys out, especially in tense situations," he says. "If you can crack a joke or something and just bring out the energy in guys, they tend to play better on the court.
"Even though I'm on the bench, I can still play a vital role. You just have to have fun and be vocal and be into the game."
Avery's personality has been a perfect fit for the Avs, who despite representing a fairly small college, always pack a large and loud crowd at their home games.
"It's been awesome. You come here and everyone loves you and the kids just go nuts and everyone is having fun. It's great," Avery says. "I feed off the crowd when they get loud. It just makes my job that much easier and then I don't lose my voice as much either."
As much credit as Avery deserves for his success, he is the first to admit that he has had a lot of help along the way.
"I would never have made it to any practices without my parents until I got my licence," he says. "They always bought me new shoes, so I always felt like I was better and they've always supported me. They would tell me when I did bad or when I played good too. All the feedback was always nice."
Avery's parents have come to every home game the Avs have played this year and his grandparents made it out to his first weekend playing a full match.
"It's unreal actually and even the girl's team, they support me a lot too," he says. "It really makes you feel better and more at home on the court."
Academically, Avery is working on his kinesiology diploma and then is planning to transfer to university to finish his degree. He's enjoying the program but is most thankful for COTR giving him a chance to keep playing the sport he loves.
"When I played my last club game, I was super upset that I might not get to play again and then I got the call from the college saying 'hey yeah, you can play,'" he remembers. "I knew I wasn't done playing and my mood totally changed, so I'm embracing it and I love it."
Avery is happy with the way the team has been playing and says he can envision a top-three finish for the Avs at Provincials. While he's hoping to get to play more, he's satisfied with whatever role the team needs from him.
As for his vocal presence, he's definitely not going to become introverted any time soon. He might think twice about spelling out the entirety of 'College of the Rockies' in a repeat-after-me chant again, though.
"That killed me," Avery says with a laugh. "I might do it every once in a while."
The College of the Rockies men's and women's teams are in action on Friday and Saturday as they face the Camosun Chargers on their home court. The Camosun men are in third place in the PACWEST at 7-5, two points ahead of the fourth place 6-8 Avs men. The Chargers women are in fourth place at 5-7 and tied with the Avs, who are 5-9. The women kick the weekend off at 6:00 p.m. on Friday and the men go at 8:00 p.m. The women then play at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday and the men follow them at 3:00 p.m.