An Airdrie high-school volleyball player is sacrificing the first half of her senior year to pursue her athletic aspirations in British Columbia.
Seventeen-year-old Isabella Stothart is currently training in Richmond, B.C., as part of Volleyball Canada's National Excellence Program – an invite-only program for the country's top high-school-aged volleyball players.
According to Stothart, who is a Grade 12 student-athlete at George McDougall High School, the program is run out of the Olympic Oval in Richmond, B.C. in the Greater Vancouver Area and lasts nearly four months.
The six-foot-three middle has been staying in the Lower Mainland since September, and will be finishing up the national program just before Christmas. Her only break from the program was over the Thanksgiving long weekend in October, when she had the chance to return home to Airdrie for a few days.
“We’re training with the national team coach and assistant national team coach in hopes of getting us ready to be able to be on the senior national team one day and qualify Canada for the Olympics,” she explained.
The process of being selected for the National Excellence Program included an initial video application followed by an in-person tryout, which was followed by more observation during a provincial tournament, before finally being invited to Richmond.
While the opportunity to train daily under national team coaches has been great for her volleyball aspirations, Stothart acknowledged it was a tough call to spend the first term of her Grade 12 year away from Airdrie.
“It’s been difficult to watch everyone hanging out without me and going through their senior year,” she admitted. “That’s been tough. It’s the first time I’ve really lived away from home, so to spend months away from my family is tough as well, and definitely an adjustment.
“But I know the sacrifices I’m making and the hard things I’m going through now will contribute to an easier transition when I go to university.”
Before she took the leap to move to B.C., Stothart was a member of and co-captain for the George McDougall Mustangs' senior varsity girls' volleyball team in her Grade 11 year. She missed her senior season – which saw the Mustangs recently compete for bronze at the South Central Zones 3A tournament – as well as her Grade 10 season, which was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I love that team. I got to be one of the captains last year,” she said of her one-season spell with the Mustangs. “I went to tryouts even, before I came out here, because I love those girls a lot and the coaches.
“Obviously, I had a year taken away due to COVID, so I didn’t get to play a whole lot with that team, but it was a lot of fun when I did get to [in my Grade 11 season].”
Away from school, Stothart also played competitively for the Calgary Canuck Stuff volleyball club, and her team won a provincial title for their age group last year. She also represented Alberta on the provincial team at last summer's Canada Cup, which was hosted in nearby Calgary.
But once she's back from B.C. in the winter, Stothart said she'll be shifting allegiances to see out her youth club career for the Calgary Dinos Volleyball Club this winter.
Stothart's near-term future is secure, as she's already signed her letter of intent to play next year for the Trinity Western University Spartans women's volleyball team. The George Mac senior said beyond that, her goal is to make Canada's national team and eventually compete in an Olympic Games.
“I love the game and am so excited to be able to play every day, and come to the Olympic Oval [in Richmond], where we train, and just play my heart out and learn things,” she said. “I think that’s been one of the amazing things about this opportunity.”