Like her two older siblings, Nicole Hart seriously entertained the notion of furthering her education and athletic career south of the border.
In the end, the Immaculata Mustangs’ senior decided her hometown school and team were ultimately the best fit.
Hart has signed on with Claire Meadows and the UBC Okanagan Heat women’s basketball program for the 2016-17 Canada West season.
“There are a lot of upsides, I like the school, and the courses I’ll be taking worked out well for me,” Hart said of committing to the Heat. “Looking at the team, they’re good and they’re getting better. And Claire is a great coach, so all in all, I’m happy. It takes a lot of stress off knowing I’m committed for next year.”
At Immaculata, the 6-foot-2 Hart was a key figure in a pair of provincial championship wins for the school—the B.C. A girls title in 2014 and the AA championship in 2015.
At the B.C. Catholic finals this spring, Hart was the tournament’s top defensive player and a first team all-star. At the 2016 B.C. AA finals in Langley, where Immaculata won bronze, she was named a second team all-star.
Mustangs assistant coach Brian Grant said the graduating forward is an impact player at both ends of the floor.
“She’s a dominant player in the paint, offensively and defensively, she has a big presence under the basket,” said Grant, “…and when she sets her mind to it, she can also run the floor very well.”
Like all players making the jump from from high school to university, Hart expects her biggest challenge will be adjusting to both the speed and more physical nature of the game.
Heat head coach Claire Meadows said the transition will take some time, but expects her newest recruit to become a key piece of the UBC Okanagan program.
“The game is way more physical and faster, and like all other players that are new to the game here, Nicole will have to work on improving her speed and strength,” said Meadows, the second-year head coach. “We need to be able to score the ball better and to have Nicole’s size in the paint should help us do that.
“When she’s playing strong, she alters the other team’s offense.”
Landing Hart for the Heat program was, at least in part, the byproduct of Meadows building a strong relationship over time with Nicole and her family.
While following in her sister and brother’s footsteps was an attractive option, Hart is happy to be remaining right at home.
“The thought of going away was exciting, it would be a new adventure,” said Hart, whose
sister Megan is with New Mexico State’s volleyball program, while brother Alex, a basketball player, is at the University of California-Santa Barbara.
“But at the same time, in staying here, I’ll still be able to travel to a lot of places and make new friends. There are so many good things in Kelowna…friends, family, home cooking. My quality of life here is going to be pretty nice to start university.”
Hart plans to take general courses in her first semester this fall at UBC Okanagan, with the potential of moving into the political science program in the future.