Avery Eckman can’t decide between studying biology or criminal justice once she leaves for college.
What the Brainerd Warriors senior should study is explosives engineering because that’s what happens every time she leaps into the air to smack a volleyball into the ground.
Eckman is a crowd-pleasing outside hitter on the Warriors’ 15-5 volleyball team. While bringing fans to their feet with her powerful kills, she’s forcing opponents to think twice about going for a dig or a block on one of her hits.
“It’s such a great feeling,” Eckman said about getting the crowd excited. “We have such a great support system. People come to our games and it’s just electric in the gym. It’s all about the team and we love each other and we love playing together. We have become a family. Getting to share your love of the game with your favorite people is an unbeatable feeling.”
The four-year varsity player knocked down 26 kills in Brainerd’s 3-2 win over Pequot Lakes Monday, Sept. 30. Her first kill of the night gave her 1,000 for her career.
“It was a crazy feeling,” Eckman said. “It doesn’t feel real, I guess, because it’s such a big milestone. When I was little, I never thought I’d be able to actually get 1,000 kills. Volleyball is such a team sport so I really just owe it all to my teammates and my coaches who have helped over the years.”
She collected 13 kills in each of Brainerd’s wins last week against Rocori and St. Cloud Apollo. Both were 3-0 Central Lakes Conference wins.
At the Duluth East Invite, Eckman totaled 44 kills in five matches.
“This year, we just wanted to finish better,” Eckman said. “That was our whole motto this year, ‘It’s not where you start. It’s where you finish.’ Last year, we didn’t finish that great. We got stopped by Moorhead. So this year we’ve been working so that doesn’t happen again.”
It was at the Duluth East Invite that Eckman caught the eye of University of Minnesota, Duluth coach Jim Boos, but it wasn’t so much Eckman’s hitting as it was her improved defense that has Boos hoping Eckman might move to Duluth next season.
“She’s gotten more looks because she improved her defense,” Warriors head coach Rick Kuehlwein said. “Last year, she didn’t show her ability in the back row.
“She has some Division I looks as well with Portland State. I think she’s exploring her options. She was initially interested in going into pre-med. She’s a very smart young woman. But as far as I’m concerned, it's because of her defense.”
Eckman leads the Warriors with 236 kills or four kills per set. She owns a hitting percentage of .308. She’s also leading Brainerd with 33 ace serves and is second on the team, behind only libero Grace Rivard, with 188 digs.
“She’s a smarter player and she’s certainly a better leader this year,” Kuehlwein said. “She doesn’t have to say a lot. Everybody watches her. Everybody knows how good she is. She’s the kind of player, she does it by just doing instead of yelling at people. She’s an amazing athlete and she can do a lot of things.
“Her growth has been defensively, though. She’s learned to read a little bit better. Last year, her serve receive was OK. People don’t serve to her as much this year. She’s earned a lot of respect by teams we play.”
Along with her 33 aces, Eckman is serving at 8.6%. She’s added 41 total blocks and 188 serve receives with just 25 errors.
Kuehlwein gave his assistant coach Nate Eckman a lot of credit for Avery’s growth. Nate Eckman played on the AVP Beach Volleyball circuit, said Kuehlwein so whatever he doesn’t tell Avery, her dad does.
“Having my dad as a coach has been really great,” Eckman said. “He’s taught me everything he knows. I’ve just grown up around the game and so I understand it a little bit better. I know if a team is scouting us, I know I have to be really loud and draw the attention to help my teammates score. I know just to stay calm during games. It really helps because we’re always thinking toward the next play and what we need to do to get this win and the next point.
“Having that volleyball IQ really just helps me to stay calm during those situations.”
Last season, Eckman earned All-Central Lakes Conference honors by finishing with 376 kills, 258 digs, 34 blocks and 16 ace serves on 91.9% serving.
Eckman said she’s really working on bringing a top-spin jump serve to her game. Whether that happens this year or next, Kuehlwein believes Eckman will make her mark at the next level.
“It’s not about the winning, but her demeanor on the court,” Kuehlwein said. “Body language tells you a lot about a player. She’s grown to the point where she knows her demeanor has to reflect a good aura. That’s the type of player that a college coach wants to recruit.
“She will be an impact player at the next level. There’s three categories. You can go as a project, as an OK player and as an impact player. She’s going to be a player. In the right system, she’s going to be a dynamite player.”
Other notable performances
Jenna Host, swimming and diving, won the 200- and 500-yard freestyles in a dual with Melrose.
Izzy Olson, swimming and diving, won the diving competition against Melrose with 219 points and against Sauk Rapids with 214.9.
Mari Devine, girls soccer, scored two goals against Rocori.
Paige Yeager, girls soccer, scored two goals against Rocori.
Gabbie Smith, girls soccer, scored two goals against Rocori and added three goals and two assists against St. Cloud Apollo.
Isaac Foster, boys soccer, scored two goals against St. Cloud Apollo.
Position: Outside hitter.
Career highlight: Going to Orlando for summer volleyball or just last week coming back from being down 19-9 to beat St. Cloud Apollo.
Other sports: Track and field.
Grade-point average: 3.9.
Favorite class: Human biology.
Favorite food: Spaghetti.
Favorite movie: “Wonder Woman.”
Favorite TV show: “Criminal Minds.”
Favorite website or app: Instagram.
Favorite restaurant: Giovanni’s Pizza.
Future plans: Play college volleyball and study either biology or criminal justice.
Favorite athlete: Adam Thielen.
Parents: Nate and Kari Eckman.