Illustration: Alanna Rizza

Don’t call it a comeback: Brett Hagarty’s new beginnings with Rams volleyball

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By Tom McCabe

Brett Hagarty considers herself to be a rookie on the Rams women’s volleyball team.

Although 24 years old with a degree from Queen’s University and three years of experience playing Ontario University Athletics (OUA) volleyball on her resume, she is blurring the line between rookie and veteran. “Oh yeah, I think I’m a rookie,” Hagarty said, followed by a chuckle. “[I might be] the oldest one at Ryerson, but [I’m] still a rookie.”

Her route to Ryerson certainly differs from her new teammates. While initially recruited out of high-school by Rams head coach Dustin Reid, the outside hitter opted for the tricolour of Queens University, where she played three seasons for the Gaels between 2012-15.

Individually, Hagarty found success. In 2013, she was named to the OUA all-rookie team. In years two and three, she was named an OUA second team all-star and was recognized as one of the better players on the team. Additionally, Hagarty played with the Canadian Junior National team the summer heading into university and spent the following summers training with Team Ontario.

On the court, Hagarty had begun crafting an impressive career. However, off the court, she found herself unhappy. A coaching change in her third year led to turbulence and she ultimately decided to press pause on volleyball in her fourth year.

Knowing she wanted to keep playing, she reached out in 2015 to Reid and expressed interest in switching to Ryerson. The idea didn’t pan out, and it was then when Hagarty figured she was likely done playing the sport she loved. She then put her focus toward completing two more years at Queen’s to earn a film studies degree in 2017.

After spending her first year out of school working a few jobs and travelling, it seemed like “real life” had begun. That was until a run in with Rams assistant coach Tine Lee on the beaches of Ashbridges Bay this past July, where Hagarty was coaching Team Ontario’s beach volleyball team.

Lee noted the openings on the roster at the outside hitter position. Knowing Hagarty still had two years of eligibility left out of the five that all U SPORTS athletes are granted, he tried to gauge her interest in returning to the court.

“I thought he was joking, but he was being serious. From there I started thinking about it,” said Hagarty, who had not played competitively in nearly three years. “I was so excited, because I had known Dustin since high school and I [really] wanted to play for him.”

 

“What she’s really good at is finding a number of ways to contribute and help the team. I think whether it’s attacking or serving or even blocking, you see the true all-around player, and those are hard to come by”

 

What started as a joke in July morphed into a reality by the middle of August. With two years of eligibility remaining, Hagarty has roughly the same amount of time it will take to earn her second undergraduate degree, this time in business management from Ryerson’s Chang School.

On the court, Hagarty also seems to fit perfectly with the defending national champions. After libero Julie Longman graduated and outside hitter Janelle Albert moved on from Ryerson, the Rams found themselves in need of strong serve receive players.

“That’s a difficult area to replace at any time and I think it’s one of the skills Brett possesses,” explained Reid. “Whenever you’re proficient in a skill that’s important and that we need, that provides an opportunity right away.”

Reid is also quick to point out that it’s not just Hagarty’s ball control skills that will allow the Aurora native to compete, noting that her communication and desire to succeed alone can help win rallies. “What she’s really good at is finding a number of ways to contribute and help the team. I think whether it’s attacking or serving or even blocking, you see the true all-around player, and those are hard to come by.”

Joining a successful program excites Hagarty, and despite the age gap between most of her teammates, she’s grateful to be involved with what she describes as “an amazing group of women,” with added emphasis on amazing. Although she insists she’s a rookie, Reid said her maturity has already allowed her to develop a voice of leadership. “It didn’t take long before the team looked at her as someone who could be a leader and a contributor,” Reid outlined. “She wasn’t given anything, but she certainly didn’t take long to earn some of that trust.”

Hagarty’s journey to Ryerson may seem unconventional, but the next two years will allow her to compete with a reignited passion for the sport she has so long cherished, while providing closure on her varsity career. This season, she’ll be joining a team with multiple OUA all-stars, who are fresh off a national title. When asked her goals for her final two years, she barely had to think.

“I want to win,” she said. “Win the OUA, win a national championship. After that I can get a real job, but for now I want to win.”

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