Rising court star calls a time-out

Madison Burt takes some time off

By Jill Neumann, Contributor

It’s the fifth and final set between Port Moody’s Heritage Woods Kodiaks and the South Delta Sun Devils at the 2012 British Columbia senior girls Quad A volleyball provincial finals. Spectators scream in excitement while others shout encouragement as a Kodiak serves the ball and starts a 30-second rally that brings everyone to their feet. The fierce rivals pass, block, and smash the ball at dizzying speed, sending it back and forth over the net. A Sun Devil drives the ball over the net and Kodiak Madison Burt jumps to intercept it, bumping it high in the air as she passes it to a teammate. The Kodiak forwards the ball to a player in front of the net who spikes it to the other side. A South Delta player dives to the floor and taps the ball, keeping it in play. The crowd screams louder as the frantic action continues. The Sun Devils return a Kodiak volley and Burt leaps up, blocks the ball once again, and sends it back over the net where it is fumbled by a Sun Devil, ending the play. The Kodiaks win the point and lead the set 8-7, triggering the teams to change sides.

Among the spectators watching that championship game in 2012 was Kyra Iannone, head coach of the Douglas College Royals women’s volleyball team. Iannone first noticed Burt in her Grade 12 year and liked the energy the 5’11” athlete brought to the game. Determined to recruit Burt, Iannone joined a fistful of suitors chasing her with offers to play for their teams. Ultimately, Iannone convinced Burt to join the Douglas squad.

“Kyra was very persistent in getting me,” says Burt, who turned down a scholarship offer from the University of Guelph to attend Douglas College in September 2013 and play for the Royals.

Burt, 19, has lived and breathed volleyball since she first tried the game at age 12. Her childhood was anything but typical: when she was six her mother died of cancer, leaving her father to raise Burt and her younger brother, Cameron. Figuring that the best way to keep Burt out of trouble was to keep her busy, her father enrolled her in multiple activities. However, dance classes and soccer didn’t appeal to Burt. It wasn’t until she attended a volleyball camp put on by the Coquitlam Ducks, a community volleyball club for female athletes and coaches, that something clicked. She tried out for a Ducks club team and enjoyed the growing camaraderie she shared with her teammates.

“I grew up with them and they are my best friends to this day,” says Burt.

Many of Burt’s friends spent the 2013-14 volleyball season playing for Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) teams, which are a level higher than the Douglas College Royals. However, Burt does not regret rejecting the offer from Guelph, which is a member of the CIS league.

“I chose to stay and play locally for family reasons,” says Burt, who lives in Port Moody. “I am glad that I stayed. I’m a strong believer that everything happens for a reason, and staying home for my dad and my brother was the best thing for us as a family.”

However, Burt isn’t as glad about the outcome of her inaugural season with the Royals. After years of success with her school and club teams, Burt found it difficult to be on the losing end of the scoreboard. She won the provincial title in 2011 as a member of the Coquitlam Ducks U16 club team and was chosen to play for Team BC at the Western Elite Championships. She’s also helped the Fraser Valley club team win the provincial title in the U18 class.

One week after the Royals were a first-round knockout at the provincial championships this past February, ending their season ignominiously, Burt sits at a bare table at a local Dairy Queen. She passes on an offer to eat or drink, her clear blue eyes giving no hint that she attended a team fundraiser the previous evening that extended well into the early hours of the morning.

“Player for player, we should have had a good year,” muses Burt. “We couldn’t seem to push ourselves to go as far as we wanted.”

Burt maintained an optimistic attitude throughout the Royals’ losing season, which ended with a 6-18 record. “I didn’t go into the games discouraged. I was always ready to bring it.”

Playing left-side, Burt made an impact on the court despite the team’s overall performance and was named to the PACWEST all-rookie team.

Says coach Iannone: “Maddy was a strong competitor, strong arm, one of the top rookies in the league as well—she did a good job adjusting to the new position and to the new level.”

With the volleyball season over and the end of her second college term looming, Burt remains undecided about her educational and athletic future. The past year has been a blur of courses, homework, practices, and games, prompting Burt to take the next college year off to spend more time with family.

“I’m putting my stresses away for a bit,” she says. Burt’s father has been her biggest supporter on and off the court and she is paying it forward. “I want to be as strong and generous as he is. His whole life has been dedicated to me and my brother.”

Although Burt does not know what the future holds, she is certain of one thing: the highlight of her athletic career is the 2012 championship game against the South Delta team. The momentum that carried the Kodiaks to an 8-7 lead at the midway point of the final game in the match ultimately fell short and the Sun Devils won the match, game, and provincial title.

Says Burt: “Hands down, that’s the best game I ever played in.” She leaves unspoken “to date”—with four more years of eligibility to play collegiate volleyball and standing invitations from Douglas and Guelph, her story is, as the saying goes, to be continued.