By Martin Cleary
There could come a day when not one, not two, but three Hirst sisters could be driving the hoop for the Algonquin College Wolves women’s basketball team.
And it could happen as early as the 2024-25 Ontario Colleges Athletic Association season.
For now, Libby and Leah – they’re not twins, for those asking – are making their White Lake, ON., family quite proud through the Wolves’ 6-0 East Division start in the OCAA league.
Younger sister, Anna, is waiting in the wings as a potential Wolves’ player by serving as a key Grade 11 guard for the Arnprior District High School girls’ senior team, which is scheduled to begin its OFSAA provincial high school AA championship Thursday in Stratford.
The idea of the ball-bouncing Hirst sisters wearing Algonquin colours in two years has been discussed by the trio in an upbeat manner.
“Yes, we have talked about it,” said Libby, who along with Leah are second- and first-year nursing students respectively. “I’m not sure she is just saying this to please us, but this would be the best idea ever that she would want to do the same as us.
“That would be awesome. I’ve never played with both of my sisters at the same time. It was supposed to happen in my last year of high school (Arnprior District), but we had no (2020) season because of COVID.”
Three Hirsts in a Wolves lineup, even for one year, would certainly fit into the game plan of Algonquin women’s basketball head coach Jaime McLean.
“With Anna in Grade 11 right now and Libby in second-year nursing, there is the possibility that the three could all play together,” McLean wrote in an email interview.
“Having all three on the Wolves would be a lot of fun. From what I have seen and heard from the coaches in the community is that Anna is a combination of Leah and Libby. So, I’ll keep my fingers crossed and hope that the three do want to play together.”
McLean knows the Hirst girls well, calling them “a special group of athletes.”
Seven years ago, McLean first met Libby, Leah and Anna when they were in Grades 8, 7 and 5 respectively, when he was coaching club basketball. He was invited to conduct a skills clinic in Arnprior for the Valley Pride Basketball Club and remembered the athletic talent of the three Hirsts.
McLean, who has coached the Wolves women’s program since 2018-19, was keen on recruiting Libby and Leah based on his previous experience and knowledge of their basketball abilities. Despite not being able to watch Libby play her Grade 12 season at Arnprior as the COVID pandemic cancelled all games, he was able to welcome her to the Algonquin program for her freshman 2021-22 season.
He recruited Leah as well, since he knew she had the potential to play at the OCAA level. But it wasn’t easy.
“Initially, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to continue playing basketball,” McLean explained. “Fortunately for the Wolves, Leah regularly came out to watch Libby play and the compete in her wouldn’t go away, so she made the decision to come play.”
After starting all eight regular-season games and averaging 10.3 points and 7.1 rebounds a game in her debut season, Libby, a forward, has stepped up her pace in season No. 2. She is ranked fourth in the OCAA in rebounds with an average of 11.4 and chips in with 11.6 points a game.
For the period Nov. 7-13, she was named the OCAA Star of the Week and the Algonquin College Athlete of the Week. Libby was a multi-category contributor in Algonquin’s 102-55 road win over George Brown College – 25 points, 15 rebounds, four assists and a 69-per-cent shooting average from the field in 26 minutes.
Leah has come off the bench in every outing and averaged 11.4 minutes of floor time a game as well as 4.4 points and 2.8 rebounds.
“We tried soccer and dance, but it wasn’t our thing,” Libby said about their journey in basketball. “I was the first to go into it (basketball) and once I liked it, Leah joined next and Anna joined after that.
“In basketball, if you work hard, you can make a difference. You can do something for the team.”
McLean and Philip Moore, the head coach of the Arnprior District High School Rapids girls’ senior basketball team, agree Anna is a mix of both Libby and Leah in terms of athleticism and skills.
“Their mother (Michelle) was a good basketball player,” said Moore, a retired Arnprior District guidance teacher and athletic director, who has coached the boys (since 1992) and girls’ (since 2008) senior basketball teams. “They (Libby, Leah and Anna) got involved in the Little Warriors’ program in Grade 4 and basketball has grown to be their sport.
“They excelled at it and put the time and effort into it. They have always been some of the strongest players on the floor even when they were younger.”
The Rapids are a guard-heavy team and are led by the fast-paced and left-handed shooting Camryn Buffam, Hirst and Mika Clifford, who is a solid shooter and defender.
After posting a 10-0 record in their Upper Ottawa Valley League, the Rapids advanced to the Eastern Ontario Secondary School Athletic Association championship tournament and finished second, again.
But this time, being the runner-up to Perth and District Collegiate Institute meant the Rapids qualified for the OFSAA AA championship for the first time since 1985. At that tournament 37 years ago, Arnprior District posted a 1-1 record.
The Rapids advanced to OFSAA because Frontenac won the OFSAA AA title in 2021, which allowed EOSSAA to send two teams to this year’s provincial high school championship.
“Our girls’ program has been second at EOSSAA every year since 2008 except for one year,” Moore said. “We always battled Kingston (Frontenac), which is a bigger urban centre. Three of the years (2016, 2019 and 2021) Frontenac won OFSAA.
“We are young, very talented and a lot of the girls have played in the community club program. We are skilled, have speed, some size and lots of experience. Some of the players have had 90 high school and 200 club games over the past six to seven years.”
At OFSAA, the Rapids hope to push the ball quickly up court and they don’t waste time setting their offence and taking shots. In the Upper Ottawa Valley League, they played under a 24-second shot clock. At OFSAA, they will have 30 seconds to get off a shot at the basket.
On defence, the Rapids favour a man-to-man system, but also have two or three zone strategies.
Fifth-seeded Arnprior District will play No. 17 Birchmount Park of Toronto in its first game at OFSAA, while No. 3 Perth will take on No. 18 Englehart. No. 15-seed Béatrice-Desloges will represent the National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association and play No. 4 Lo-Ellen Park.
At the OFSAA A girls’ basketball championship in Walkerton, No. 7 Osgoode Township goes against No. 13 Horizon of Sudbury. Earl of March, the No. 15 seed, takes the court against No. 5 Pickering in its opener at the OFSAA AAA girls’ basketball championship in Belle River.
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Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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