Thursday, July 5, 2012

Always busy, Spokane Shine defender Averi Hallman enjoys embracing change

It's all about having fun for Hallman
Spokane Shine defender Averi Hallman is a dynamic and versatile athlete. It is something that has been a part of her life since the age of nine, making the changes she has faced in recent years merely something fun, instead of a daunting challenge.

Chief among those changes was a move from playing as a striker for Mt Spokane High School and the Spokane Shadow to moving across the country to the University of Memphis and later becoming a defender in her sophomore season with the Lady Tigers.

“Freshman year it was a lot of fun because I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” Hallman said. “It’s a whole new level, and I played forward my freshman year. I had a lot of assists so I made the [Conference USA] All-Freshman Team – that was cool.

“Then my sophomore year we had a lot of injuries in the back line so [coach Brooks Monaghan] decided to move me back to outside back, and I have been playing there ever since. And I really like it because they hardly ever sub out defense so you get to play the entire 90 minutes and that’s what I like – I like playing the whole game.”

Hallman gallery on INW Facebook page [+]
The move was simpler than she expected and suits her well as fans across the northwest have witnessed, seeing her regularly transition from defense to offense as she flies up and down the flanks for the Spokane Shine.

“I thought it was going to be really difficult, but if you are fast and athletic, basically you’d make a good defender. And I was once a forward so I know what forwards do and how forwards think, so it was a lot easier for me to defend forwards.”

Making the change from forward to defender, ultimately, was akin to the fact that for about 10 years, she had already been making seasonal changes between sports themselves. At Mt. Spokane Hallman not only saw great success with All-State honors several times, but the 2008 League Soccer MVP also played varsity basketball for four years and participated in varsity track in field for two. In addition to finishing with school records in career goals (38) and assists (41), she was the Greater Spokane League 2008 Fall Athlete of the Year.

“All year around I was playing sports. Each sport helped me keep in shape for the next sport. It was hard though, because soccer is year-round so I would always have to miss things. I was really busy; I had to miss a lot of birthday parties and stuff like that because I was so busy. But I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.”

“I was just better at soccer than all the other ones,” she said of her collegiate athletics path. “I coulda probably went to school for basketball, but it would have probably been a little school somewhere, and soccer was just a lot more fun for me. I liked running around and scoring goals. I don’t know; I just liked soccer since I started. I started basketball and soccer when I was nine, and soccer was just the one I leaned more towards.”

Sticking with soccer and choosing Memphis proved a wise decision as the school has consistently been the top contender for the Conference USA championship and were in contention for a national title with an impressive 21-0-1 record going into the NCAA tournament last fall.

Hallman helped keep T&T star Kennya Cornder scoreless
“Ever since I’ve been there, we have won the conference tournament every single year, so I could possibly get four rings if we win this next season. And we’ve made it to the NCAA tournament every year. This last season we were undefeated until our first loss in the NCAA tournament against Louisville. We got as high as ranked third in the country, so that was really good. We were a consistent top 10 team. We’ve really upped the program. The program’s considered a top20 team all around, and it’s just a really good feeling to be part of a team that’s just known around the country as a top soccer program.”

Memphis went into the tournament ranked No. 5 in the nation and won its first round game versus nearby Tennessee-Martin in dominating 7-0 fashion before falling at home, 2-0, to a 14-6-3 Cardinals side, ending the school’s record season.

Though she has experienced many changes in moving to Memphis and switching positions, the one constant for her has having fun, including her time playing at Mt Spokane and for the Shadow.

“It was a lot of fun because it was back when I played forward,” she said of her high school career. “We had a lot of good players on my team from my club so we had all played together, and it wasn’t like playing with a completely different team. And the competition isn’t as high in high school, so a lot of goals are scored.”

“I really liked playing Shadow, because I really liked my coach and I also got to play up with the age group above me; and they were really good,” she continued. “They always won state and stuff, so that was always fun, always winning - because my [age group] team was just mediocre and their team was really good. I got to play a lot and I really liked my coach.”

That coach was Jeff Robbins, the former general manager of the Spokane Shadow Premier Development League team that used to play at Joe Albi Stadium, the same venue Hallman plays in now as a key player for the Shine.

Spokane Shine photo galleries [+]
“Averi Hallman was a dynamic attacking player with incredible pace. As a defender, if she got you isolated one-v-one in a wide area, you were in trouble,” Robbins, now an assistant coach of the Clemson women’s soccer team, said of Hallman’s prowess on the attack. “As a young player playing with older players, the trick with Averi was helping her to realize just how good she could be.  As soon as she began to believe, her game exploded and she deservedly caught the attention of college coaches across the country.”

One of those coaches that came looking as she was weighing her options was Monaghan, which led to the difficult decision.

“Some girls on my same club team, but older than me – they were [at Memphis]. So I knew some people there already,” she said. “And the coach, he was such a good recruiter, it’s insane. He could get basically anybody to come to Memphis. He can get a lot of good athletes, and I really liked the girls. They made me really feel welcome and wanted – that was the biggest thing.

“I talked to my dad and he goes, ‘You know, when it comes down to it, you just gotta pick the school that makes you feel the most wanted.’ And that’s what my coach did at Memphis.”

The cross-country move extremely limited Hallman’s opportunities to come home and see family. And the Memphis schedules have kept her well away from the region. Last season and as a freshman, the nearest the Lady Tigers came to Spokane was a pair of games in Houston. Memphis made a trip to Colorado Springs during her sophomore campaign, the closest point they will once again reach this fall during her senior season.

“I love coming home because there is no place like home. And Memphis is so far away, and so completely different from Spokane.  I really love my family; I’m a big family person so I just love being home.

“I played two years ago,” she said of her previous campaign with the WPSL team. “I took a break off last summer and didn’t play the game here.”

And in continuation of the theme, things have changed quite a bit Spokane’s team in that short two-year span, ranging from a name change from Black Widows (an affiliate of the PDL Spiders) to an evolving roster that went national a year ago and international this season. 

Atypical defensive form from Hallman
“Two years ago, it was all local players – mostly all Shadow players and people I played in high school. Nobody from out of town or anything like that.

“I made a lot of new friends. I am really close with a lot of people on this team, and I’ve only known them for hardly even two months,” she said of the 2012 Shine experience. “It’s just a lot more fun getting a whole bunch of new people from all over.”

“It actually is going a lot better than I thought it was because whenever you get a whole new team together with a whole new bunch of people it usually takes a while to get in the groove of things,” she said of how the season has progressed.

“I think we came together pretty nicely for the circumstances; having somebody who can hardly even speak English [in Tseng Shu-O], and having our captain [that] you can barely understand because [Lisa Robertson is] from Scotland.  I think we have done really well. We’ve had a lot of people step up; had really young people step up who aren’t even in college yet.”