For the Wolves’ Hirst sisters, basketball, family and teamwork are everything

What’s better than two sisters on the same varsity team? Potentially, three
Photo: Claire Donnan
Libby (left) and Leah Hirst pose in E-building.

It’s the evening of Thursday, Feb. 15 and the Algonquin College Wolves women’s basketball team are training hard at the Jack Doyle Athletics and Recreation Centre. They warm up, run drills and take turns practicing how they will respond to a variety of different moves their opponents could throw at them.

They’ll be competing against Conestoga over the weekend ahead, and as it’s the first game of the playoffs their coach, Jaime McLean, wants the currently-undefeated team to be on top of their game.

Throughout practice, sisters Leah and Libby Hirst are never far from one another.

During a shooting drill, Libby, a forward, taps Leah, a guard, on the back as she jumps to shoot the ball. Another time, Leah goes to retrieve a ball and the women chant and hoot. It’s impossible to catch Libby not smiling at practice, and sometimes, she grooves on the court. This is just one practice out of thousands they’ve shared together, and everything feels routine.

Libby and Leah are in third- and second-year of the Algonquin College-University of Ottawa nursing program, and have been on the Wolves women’s basketball team for the same amount of time. Libby has started 13 out of 14 games this season, and averages 10.5 points per game. Leah has yet to lose a game in her time in collegiate basketball.

The sisters have a third basketball-playing sibling too: Anna Hirst, is a grade 12 student in Arnprior and is just as passionate about the sport. Anna is also a guard, and her high school team is undefeated within the district. The women were even supposed to play on the same team together in 2020, but Covid ruined their chances.

But now, with Anna graduating high school this spring, they may have an opportunity after all.

Anna has applied to Algonquin College next year and if she gets in – and chooses Algonquin – the Wolves may see three Hirst sisters on their roster in the fall.

Leah, Anna and Libby Hirst, three white women with dark hair, pose after a game. Leah and Libby are in uniform, while Anna is in jeans, a white shirt and a black jacket. They are smiling at the camera.
Leah, Anna, and Libby Hirst after a game. (photo courtesy of Libby Hirst)

“I’m the oldest so I got into it first,” said Libby Hirst. “And pretty much as soon as the girls were able to they joined too.”

Leah Hirst, the middle sister, spent years switching which sister she shared a team with until joining the Algonquin Wolves in her first year of college.

“It was like, I play with Libby one year, and the next year it was me and Anna,” said Leah.

When McLean first met the Hirst sisters, they were doing somersaults around the gym during a coaching clinic he was running for the Valley Pride Basketball Club in Arnprior.

“I sort of looked over and was like ‘who are these girls?’” said McLean. “But as I went through the clinic I realized they were real athletes.”

The decision to continue playing, a passion they had nurtured through grade school, was different for each woman, however.

“It wasn’t this crazy decision, it just kind of was always a thing,” said Libby. “Play as long as you can, was kinda the thought process behind it.”

Her passion inspired her sister Leah to continue.

“Well, Libby was playing, so I was like, ‘If Libby’s playing basketball I don’t want to not be with her,’” said Leah. “I came and watched a few of her games and I sat in the stands and I remember thinking ‘I don’t want to have to come and just sit in the stands and watch,’ I wanted to play.”

At the high school level, Anna has been enjoying her final season on Valley Pride.

“I’m kinda in the same boat,” said Anna. “I just know it would be such an awesome experience for all three of us to play on the same team.”

McLean’s decision to recruit Libby and Leah to the Wolves women’s basketball team in 2021 and 2022 respectively came down to their graduation falling exactly when he needed to fill a position.

“It started with Libby, at that point in time we were losing a post player and Libby sort of filled a hole of what we were looking for to reload our roster,” said McLean. “With Leah…we went out with the Algonquin team to actually scrimmage her high school team [in grade 12]. That was our opportunity to see where Leah could get to with her game.”

Back in the ARC gym, practice quickly kicks into high gear.

The Wolves women’s team is very close and friendly, chatting and joking as they practice. Any time a collision happens there’s a chorus of laughter, followed by a “sorry,” and a helping hand. The women cheer each other on through free throws and congratulate each other on impressive plays.

When looking to the future, two questions are ever-present. The first: What’s Anna’s plan?

“I’ve applied for three different programs,” she said. “Hopefully this month I’ll be hearing back. Part of me wants to live just a regular university life experience, but I know…I will regret it if I don’t play with my sisters.”

Two of the programs Anna has applied to are at uOttawa, while the third is the same bridge program Leah and Libby are currently studying.

While McLean would like to have the trifecta of Hirst sisters on his team, he admits there’s more to recruiting than that.

“For me as a coach it’s about finding the right place for the athlete,” says McLean. “Not necessarily encouraging an athlete to come to us if it’s not the right spot.”

The final question is where the sisters hope to take basketball when their time on the varsity team is done.

“I think I’d probably be done playing after college basketball. Maybe go back and coach the club team [in Arnprior],” said Leah. “I hope my kids play, too, so then they have the same experiences I did.”

“And I hope my kids play with your kids,” says Libby.

“And I hope my kids play with your guys’ kids,” Anna chimes in over the phone, as all three sisters laugh.

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