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Preparing for next step a maturing journey for Coquitlam soccer star

Avery Tulloch and her senior girls' soccer teammates at Centennial secondary haven't been able to play matches for the past two seasons. That means she's had to work extra hard to navigate the post-secondary recruiting process on her own.

The last goal Avery Tulloch scored for the Centennial Centaurs helped her team win its second straight AAA senior girls high-school soccer championship.

That was two years ago, when she was a sophomore.

Deprived of her junior and senior seasons by the COVID-19 pandemic, Tulloch is preparing to step up to the next level of her soccer career. In September, she’ll lace on her boots for the University of the Fraser Valley Cascades (UFV).

Tulloch said she has been able to maintain some of her competitive edge training up to five times a week with her Coquitlam Metro-Ford club team, but the absence of matches for much of the past 14 months means she’s navigating uncharted waters. She said that’s put the onus for honing her game for her next challenge solely on her shoulders.

Needless to say, it hasn’t been easy.

“You do the best you can, but nothing compares to playing games against other teams you look forward to playing against,” Tulloch said.

While the coaches of her club team have worked hard to make the skills and ball handling drills they’re allowed to do in practice as high-energy as possible, the lack of contact and inability to battle for the ball with other players has been weighing heavily.

“It will be a huge learning curve coming back and playing games,” Tulloch said.

To flatten that curve, Tulloch added she had to dig deep within herself to develop her own fitness program and stick with it so she can compete for a position on the pitch this fall against older, more experienced players at UFV.

“I definitely need to boost my strength,” she said, adding she runs around Mundy Park several times a week and does balance and agility work on the turf field at Dr. Charles Best Secondary or the grass pitch across from Centennial.

Tulloch said the mental and physical resolve she’s developed setting and attaining personal goals should serve her well going forward.

“It’s not for the team anymore, it’s for myself to better myself as a person, athlete and student,” she said. “Your success is in seeing how much you’ve improved.”

Navigating the recruiting process and pondering her post-secondary options has also been a maturing journey, Tulloch said.

With no current footage of her in game action available to send to coaches, Tulloch had to put together a highlight reel compiled from hours and hours of older clips that still showed her progression and indicated her potential to develop even further. She also wasn’t able to visit prospective schools to meet the coaches in person or get a proper lay of the land.

Tulloch said she considered several possible options, but in the end, UFV — where she’ll be studying sciences — ticked many of the most important boxes, including being close to home and offering a competitive program that will push her game even further.

“I like the comfort of being around my family, there’s so much joy in being able to stay close,” she said, adding that’s been especially apparent in the past year of social isolation.

“I think the COVID pandemic has taught me how to work on things myself,” she said. “I can rely on myself, I’m more than ready to have that next-level experience.”

For Cascades’ coach Nico Marcina, the feeling is mutual.

“She brings a big personality to the program that fits right into our environment,” he said in a news release. “I know for a fact she’s going to work extremely hard to prove to herself what she can offer to our team and program.”

The UFV women’s soccer team competes in U SPORTS, which is Canada’s highest-level of university athletics.