Amaya Perry, Rookie of the Year

UBC Okanagan Heat volleyball player Amaya Perry was named USports rookie of the Year on March 12, 2020.

Amaya Perry didn’t get to celebrate her rookie of the year award in front of hundreds of people inside a crowded Calgary banquet hall.

The coronavirus took care of that.

“I was kind of a little relieved that I didn’t have to get up and say my speech in front of so many people,” the UBC Okanagan volleyball player said with a laugh Friday.

Just hours before Perry was to learn if she was going to win the Mark Tennant Award as rookie of the year in USports, word came down the awards banquet at the national championship tournament had to be cancelled.

Instead, Heat head coach Steve Manuel broke the news to her personally.

“It was, honestly, very surreal,” she said. “The first time Steve said it I kind of thought it was a joke.

“I hadn’t actually thought of the outcome,” she added. “I was more just really honoured to be there and nominated. … I didn’t really think too much or worry too much about whether I would get the award.”

Perry collected her hardware on Thursday night. UBCO didn’t make the playoffs, so she was the Heat’s lone representative at the championship tournament and banquet.

That does not mean she didn’t belong. Perry turned in a remarkable first season of Canada West volleyball.

She came out of Catholic Central high school in Lethbridge immediately into a vital role with UBCO. Perry started all 24 games and finished second nationally in service aces with 59 and ranked among the top 25 nationally for kills per set (2.36), total attacks (679) and points per set (3.2).

“We counted on Amaya to play like a veteran all season, and she did not disappoint,” Manuel said. “Fearless from the service line, she used her devastating float serve as a weapon to keep teams off balance every single time she stepped back to the end line.

“A joy to coach and a fierce competitor, our coaching staff is excited to continue to work with her in the coming years and we couldn’t be happier for her win of this much-deserved award.”

Perry is the first UBCO volleyball player to earn the nation’s top honour for a first-year player. But she’s not alone on the conference all-rookie team.

Teammate Abigail Dueck joined her on this year’s conference all-rookie squad one season after Jade Bussard and Sydney Grills earned the same honour.

“Since the season’s ended, everything that I’ve heard from every player that I’ve talked to and every coach, is (they’re) just so excited for next year,” Perry said. “This year we were trying to find our footing a little bit, and we for sure got a few injuries, but people are excited about next year.

“Everyone is ready to work hard. … We have so much talent. We have so much potential.”

The Heat finished this season 7-17, a steep drop off expectations due to injuries to key players. Instead, the Heat will look to return the program to its lofty perch among Canada’s universities in September.

UBCO played in the CanWest semifinal each year from 2013-18, winning a USports bronze medal in 2017. They had won silver at the CanWest playoffs a year prior.

Perry credits coming into that pursuit-of-excellence environment with helping her reach the accolades she did.

“It was really easy to work hard and get better and not really worry so much about being a rookie when I had my vets and my teammates and my coaches who were just so awesome,” she said.

The results of that work were the parts she wasn’t expecting. Along with her rookie of the year award and place on the CanWest all-rookie team was a selection to the USports rookie all-star list.

“I went into the season knowing I would have to work really, really hard to be good and get playing time and get set,” she said. “I didn’t expect to be starting every game or end up as a main option on offence. I’m super-grateful for that. My expectation for this year was to get better and work really, really hard and develop a new level of play, which I do think I did. But I definitely got a few extra bonuses that I wasn’t really expecting.”