Recent Nauset Grad Burns Dubbed State’s Best Shooter As She Recovers From Hoops Injury

By: Brad Joyal

Topics: School Sports , Basketball , Nauset Regional High School

Former Nauset star Avery Burns holds the trophy as she's surrounded by friends and competitors after earning the title of the state’s best shooter at the A Shot For Life shooting competition. COURTESY PHOTO

Avery Burns had big plans for this summer. The former star point guard for Nauset Regional High School’s girls basketball team joined one of the state’s top AAU programs — the Bay State Jaguars — in hopes she would have an opportunity to increase her recruiting profile as one of the top local prospects in the eyes of college coaches.

That plan quickly fizzled. Just days after graduating from Nauset in June, Burns suffered a grade 3 ankle sprain — known in medical circles as a full tear of the ankle ligament. The injury left the sharpshooting guard in severe pain, and she spent most of the next few weeks attending to swelling and bruising rather than working on her crossover dribbles and step-back jumpers.

“For those first four or five weeks, I couldn’t even really shoot because I was in a boot,” recalls Burns, an Orleans native.

Slowly but steadily, Burns began returning to form as the summer wore on. With the help of her trainer Ben Vaneria, who runs private training sessions through his outfit, Swish Cape Cod, Burns fought through the sprained ankle to improve her craft.

“She was devastated for a period of time,” Vaneria said of the injury, noting that it wasn’t long before Burns shifted her attention to the A Shot For Life Challenge, a fundraiser created by Mike Slonina in 2011 after his mother was diagnosed with a potentially malignant brain tumor.

What began as a 24-hour challenge with Slonina shooting a basketball around the clock for a full day turned into an annual two-hour shooting contest for some of the area’s best prospects. Burns was one of 16 girls chosen to compete in this year’s contest, which has girls shoot 20 minutes of free throws, 20 minutes of mid-range shots and then 20 minutes of 3-pointers in the first hour. Following a 10-minute break, the girls returned for 30 minutes of mid-range shooting and another half hour of 3-pointers.

The champion is crowned based on what percent of the shots go through the basket.

Burns, who is set to begin a postgraduate year at Deerfield Academy where she’ll play hoops, lit up the Aug. 7 competition. She ultimately earned the title of “Best Shooter in Massachusetts” after making 82.48 percent of her shots during the two-hour period at the Starland Sportsplex in Hanover.

Burns bested a few of her close friends to capture the crown, including Hopedale standout Bri Frongillo, a Bryant commit, Bridgewater-Raynham’s Shay Bollin, a Duke basketball commit, and Norwood star Megan Olbrys, who is committed to Villanova — all of whom played on the Bay State Jaguars AAU team.

“It definitely felt good to win, but it kind of felt like it was put into place because I definitely worked really hard for that,” Burns said of winning A Shot For Life, nicknamed ASFL. “It was something I had looked forward to all year because I’m a shooter and it’s a shooting competition. It kind of fits perfectly for that.”

As she recovered from her ankle injury, Burns, along with Vaneria, viewed the ASFL competition as a source of motivation. The trainer introduced rigorous swimming exercises into her workouts and helped her regain her strength until she was cleared to shoot a basketball again.

“She was eventually cleared to shoot on both legs, however her range was limited because she couldn’t jump or push off aggressively,” Vaneria said. “She continued to build both on the court and in our strength and conditioning workouts in the gym Monday evenings, and she utilized the setback as an opportunity to develop unbelievable upper-body and core strength. Finally, by early August, Avery was able to perform her usual shooting workouts and built volume heading into the competition.”

Vaneria said Burns “performed brilliantly” at ASFL and that she has been a key member for his varsity-level training group this summer.

“When our sessions end and the other girls grab their phones or leave the gym, Avery always grabs a basketball and shoots for an extra hour or so,” Vaneria said, adding that while it’ll be sad to see her leave Swish, he’s excited to watch her continue to develop at Deerfield and at the collegiate level.

Although Burns recognizes she put in a lot of hard work to win the shooting competition, she displays her maturity when expressing just how fortunate she feels to lead the pack of 16 remarkable shooters.

“It was really gratifying because it doesn’t happen to everybody — not everything always falls into place,” she said about recovering from her injury. “It felt really good because this whole summer I was really discouraged about my ankle before that.”

A Shot For Life is much more than a shooting competition for Burns and the other competitors, however. She said that while the competition certainly taps into her competitive spirit, she was mostly excited to help Slonina raise money for cancer research. Each competitor must raise a minimum of $1,000, a figure Burns said she reached with the help of friends and family.

“I put flyers in envelopes and put them in all my neighbors’ mailboxes,” she said, “and made social media posts and stuff like that.”

After a full summer of rehabbing her ankle, Burns said her health is finally approaching 100 percent. It comes at the perfect time, as she gears up to enroll at Deerfield, where she hopes she’ll be able garner the attention of college coaches this winter and potentially secure a basketball scholarship.

Although she’s not heading off to college, it sure feels like it for Burns, who will live on campus while attending the school.

“It feels like I’m going to college even though I’m not because I’m boarding there and obviously taking classes and playing basketball,” she said. “I’m not playing a fall sport, so I’ll have a lot of time to practice and get ready for the season. That was my goal… I was doing physical therapy three to four days per week and I was doing all of these different things because my goal was to be at 100 percent or as close to it as possible when I left for school.”

While Burns’ health will almost be back to 100 percent when she leaves for Deerfield on Aug. 30, the former Nauset star will also leave Cape Cod with the title she always wanted: She’s the state’s best shooter.

“It’s pretty awesome,” she said.


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