A Long Way From Home
When Braden Cook wakes up every morning in Harrington Hall, on the campus of St. Thomas University, he checks his phone to see what freezing cold temperatures he must brace for that day. He puts on his new winter gear and gets ready for a jam-packed day of classes and practice with the men’s volleyball team.
This hasn’t been routine for the first-year player. Braden is 17,556 kilometres away from home. This is the first time he has seen snow and the frigid weather that comes along with it is daunting for the freshman.
“It is absolutely freezing. I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily getting used to it, but I guess it’s becoming normal.”
In June of 2018, Braden, who hails all the way from Adelaide, Australia, became the first international recruit to commit to the men’s volleyball team in program history.
Braden, who spent the past two seasons suiting up for the Norwood Bears of the South Australian State Volleyball League,decided to make the trek across the world when some old teammates of his raved about the Canadian volleyball experience.
Those old teammates of his are Reagan and Jayden Fathers, and Thomas Wass, all of whom suit up for the Red Deer College Kings. In a coincidental twist, the Red Deer Kings are hosting the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) championships during the week of March 6-9.
It would be a reunion of sorts, if the Tommies can pull out another Atlantic Collegiate Athletic Association (ACAA) Championship. It would be their sixth championship in the last eight years. The Atlantic champion, of course, gets an automatic birth into the national championship tournament.
“We started talking about it back when Red Deer was named host of the national championships. Once I made my commitment to St. Thomas, I knew we had a really good opportunity of getting to nationals. So, we started chatting about how awesome it would be to play one another,” Cook said.
A trip to Reed Deer, Alberta would be incredibly special in terms of volleyball, but Braden already received a trip that fulfilled his Canadian tourist experience within his first month of arrival.
The Tommies traveled to Gatineau, Quebec for an exhibition tournament early in the first semester. It only made sense for the team to voyage across the Alexandra Bridge from Gatineau to Ottawa to take in an Ottawa Senators hockey match. Having never seen snow, you can imagine the confusion of watching ten men on skates chase an English muffin sized object for an hour.
“All I knew about hockey was that there were fights – so it was a really cool experience to see the game up close and learn about it in person. You could say it accelerated my Canadian development,” he said while laughing.
Braden has settled nicely into the fast-paced Tommies offence; he’s appeared in nine matches so far this season and has 8 kills, 4 blocks, and 9 digs. He has one of the strongest floats serves on the Tommies roster and has been called upon often to put opposing serve receivers in danger.
Tommies Head Coach, Henri Mallet, is happy with the development of his young Aussie middle.
“Braden comes to work every day looking to get better. To come this far to play volleyball speaks highly of his passion for the sport and I am really pleased with his growth so far. We will be seeing a lot more of Braden in years to come,” said the second-year head coach.
“I want to develop myself into a top player on and off the court and keep pushing myself in the gym. We have a really good thing going on here at STU, so I’m going to keep pushing myself to see how far we can go,” Cook added.
Although the weather on campus remains below zero, the 11-3 Tommies are heating up for the ACAA championships - and that might be just enough to keep Braden warm until spring arrives.