Grain Valley freshman forward Avery Brady likes to challenge herself when it comes to the sport she loves.
Sometimes she practices juggling a soccer ball on her foot, seeing how many dribbles she can get to before the ball drops. She starts counting the bounces. One. Two. Three. Four. Five.
Minutes later, she reaches 364 before she stops.
“I juggle during the summer and I try to get better than the last summer,” Brady said. “Last year I was able to get above 100 and I got 364. That’s a kind of a competition with myself I had.”
That’s just one skill the Eagle newcomer brings to the table for Grain Valley. What she’s done this season is pretty uncommon.
It’s not all that uncommon for a freshman to play at the varsity level or even start. But to have the kind of impact that Brady has this season is not something that happens too often.
“To have such an immediate impact and to have the stats she does is rare,” Grain Valley girls soccer coach Tyler Nichol said.
Heading into Tuesday’s Class 3 sectional playoff against Kearney, she has scored 25 goals and has dished out 16 assists, including one against Raytown South Thursday to help her team capture a Class 3 District 15 championship after a 10-0 mercy-rule victory over Raytown South.
“I definitely didn’t think I would have this many goals,” said Brady, who transitioned from an attacking center midfielder to a forward. “But I also didn’t think I would be playing forward. Playing that position helps you score more.”
Brady has played the sport since she was 9 years old and she’s been with the same club team – FC Kansas City – since that time. Nichol heard a lot about the freshman before she joined the team. He knew that he was going to get an impact player.
“It’s a huge blessing to get the opportunity to work with her,” Nichol said. “She’s a great player and a great person off the field. She’s a huge help to the team.
“I was told that she was a quality player who would help us right from day one. They were spot on.”
Brady credits her success to the midfield play, led by junior Rylan Childers and senior Marissa Schmitt, both of whom were all-state players last season.
“Playing through the middle has been our fastest way to win a game,” she said. “Whenever we play teams that don’t play through the middle or aren’t expecting it when we play right through the middle, we get up and score pretty quick.”
The presence of Brady has taken the pressure off Childers, who provided the bulk of the scoring last year for the Eagles (21-4). Last year, the junior scored a school record 51 goals on a team that advanced to the state quarterfinals.
This season, Childers has 37 goals and admits that the pressure to score has been alleviated some because of Brady’s presence.
“Life has definitely been easier to have more people to play off of,” Childers said. “For me, I know that I can find her and that she’ll be able to do something good with the ball.”
And when teams who haven’t heard of Brady still mark Childers, they quickly realize that may not be the best idea.
“They very quickly change out of that once they see what Avery can do,” Nichol said. “We have quite the 1-2-3 punch with her, Rylan and Marissa. Teams are finding out (marking Childers) is not going to work.”
The biggest intangible that Brady has on the field is her competitiveness and grit, Nichol said, and that’s resulted in the newcomer winning more than a handful of 50-50 balls.
“I would say she’s a gamer,” Nichol said. “She’s extremely competitive and has that kind of fight in her that if she loses the ball, she’s going to win it back from you next time. It just goes a long way her for. She also has a powerful leg. She scored a beautiful goal a week ago from about 30 yards out. She has the ability to dribble the ball and take players on, too.”
With Brady now at the top of the formation, that helps the Eagles to be able to score on a frequent basis despite committing five players to the back in a 5-3-2 shape.
“The main reason for that is the back line is something we’ve had to work on,” Nichol said. “We needed to improve and needed extra help back there. But the reason that it’s working out OK is we have so many great players up top like Avery, Rylan and Marissa and Kailey Boyer.”
This season, Brady wants to get revenge on Kearney in the sectional round as the Bulldogs defeated the Eagles 4-2 earlier this season. She also wants the team to be able to hang with defending Class 3 state champion and undefeated Notre Dame de Sion if both teams make it to the quarterfinals.
She’s definitely has high expectations of herself. And when she completes three more seasons of soccer, Brady is hopeful that she will play NCAA Division I soccer.
“I’ve been looking at colleges for the past two to six months,” Brady said. “I’ve been going on visits and looking around. Right now my dream school is Vanderbilt.”