Megan Hart 1

Megan Hart hits for the New Mexico State University Aggies.

Megan Hart has to admit taking a scholarship to play volleyball at New Mexico State University was a stretch.

Good thing she’s six-foot-four.

“I didn’t even know New Mexico was a state,” Hart said with a laugh this week.

Now 23, Hart has just finished her playing career with the Aggies and will return home — after she finishes a master’s degree in dietetics next spring — with a raft of awards.

It didn’t start the way she might have liked.

“I just remember being really nervous and being scared,” Hart said in an interview this week. “I was 18, so of course moving away from your parents for the first time and just having to make decisions on your own is definitely terrifying.”

To make that transition even more challenging, Hart hurt her knee the first few days into her NMSU career and missed her entire first season. That compounded the usual anxiety that can accompany leaving home, but Hart was undeterred.

“Definitely, coming from high school to going into college or university it’s way faster,” she said. “The girls are 10-times stronger. They jump higher. They’re bigger. But you kind of have to go with the flow. You’re going to make mistakes. It feels like the first semester, the first few months, is just mistake after mistake. You’re getting yelled at. It’s just really hard.”

She credits her family, coaches and teammates — both at Immaculata High School here in Kelowna and in Las Cruces — with preparing her to overcome any obstacles.

“I was very quiet and reserved, and I didn’t go out of my shell a lot back then,” she said. “Since then, I’ve kind of blossomed out of that. I think I’ve become more of a leader. I’ve been able to help more people. … I’ve definitely become a better person, I think.”

Hart was the centerpiece of an Aggies team that finished 27-4 this season thanks to a 19-match win streak. She graduates in the top 10 in numerous statistical categories at NMSU.

“My experience has been super positive coming here,” Hart said in the phone interview. “As far as my career, I’ve had great coaches and great teammates. That really makes your whole experience, whether you have a full scholarship or not. The people around here are really the most important piece of that.”

Hart’s playing career ended in December at the NCAA women’s volleyball tournament with a loss to Brigham Young University.

It was a jolt, to be sure, but Hart isn’t dwelling on that aspect of her athletic career. She did, after all, get the chance to play out her string on the floor unlike teams that were forced to cancel or abandon their seasons due to the spread of COVID-19.

Hart said she’d gladly accept losing abruptly in the playoffs over never getting the chance to play like classmates who played basketball, baseball or softball

“They had no idea they were playing their last game,” she said. “Going into the tournament knowing that you could lose the first round, I knew to prepare mentally: ‘This could be my last game.’ To have that cut away from you without being able to prepare for it is so much harder.”

But it’s not like Hart is leaving NMSU empty-handed. She helped the Aggies win the Western Athletic Conference championship, and is two-time WAC tournament most valuable player and conference player of the year.

The American Volleyball Coaches Association named her an All-American honourable mention.

And to think she landed in Las Cruces nearly by accident.

After leading Immaculata to a single-A provincial volleyball championship her senior season, Hart sent out her highlight tape to American schools hoping to land a scholarship.

One of those schools was University of Arizona. The Wildcats had filled their roster, so their coach sent Hart’s tape to his brother at NMSU.

“I agreed to come down just to check out the campus and meet some of the girls. I just ended up falling in love with this place. It really is a beautiful place,” Hart said.

“The coaches were great. The fans are great. Everything. I’m glad I committed here.”

She’s now focused on her master’s degree, and hopes to one day become a registered dietician.

Hart also admitted she is considering a professional career, but wants to complete her schooling first.

Her mother has dual Swiss-Canadian citizenship, so Hart may follow in her brother’s footsteps. Alex has just completed his second season playing professional basketball in Europe.

Hart is also hoping to become the second in her family to win a City of Kelowna Civic Award. Alex won for Male Athlete of the Year in 2013.

Hart is nominated for the Female Athlete of the Year against finallists Emma Cannan (track and field) and Madelyn Hettinga (track, volleyball).

“I was really honoured, actually,” she said. “I’ve been to the Civic Awards a couple of times, and I never thought I’d be in the same position as all those other amazing female athletes I’ve seen win before. I was really excited about that. I was born and raised in Kelowna, and I just love it there. It’s really an honour for me.”

The Civic Awards, if they can be held, are set for April 29.

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Email: dave.trifunov@ok.bc.ca