If Katie Hegarty needs advice on being a Division I athlete, she won't have to look very far.
The 6-foot-2 senior volleyball star signed a National Letter of Intent on Tuesday to play volleyball for Southern Methodist University, a Division I college in Dallas that is bound for the Big East Conference in 2013.
She is the third Hegarty kid to earn a Division I scholarship, following in the footsteps of her brothers Ryley and Matthew. Ryley, a 2007 Aztec graduate and class valedictorian, signed with Brown University in the Ivy League where he played football. Matthew currently plays for the No. 1-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team, who he signed with in 2010.
“Just because you come from a small town doesn't mean you don't have the opportunity,” Katie Hegarty said. “You still have a wealth of opportunity. If you want it bad enough, you can get out there. That is what Matt and Ryley did, and it is what I did as well. You have to want it, but you can do it.”
Though Katie Hegarty always looked up to her older brothers, the boys have reason to look up to their little sister.
“It makes me so proud to see Katie get the opportunity to play DI because I know she dedicates herself so much behind the scenes,” Matt Hegarty said. “Katie epitomizes ‘Do the little things,' by how well she manages her practice, school, diet and working out. I definitely look up to her in discipline.”
Katie Hegarty is thrilled to join the Mustangs volleyball program in the fall when the school joins the Big East.
“The program is taking steps in the right direction. They signed a Nike contract, are pumping like $50 million into their arena and moving to the Big East,” she said. “They just signed Larry Brown as a basketball coach, so I definitely think SMU is establishing itself again.
“With my recruiting class, we are all big and physical. That is where coach (Lisa) Seifert is taking the program. They are signing big players with a lot of power. I am glad they looked at me as that type of player, and I know our coach is ready to get after it. She doesn't just want to move into the Big East, she wants to be powerful and she hopes our class can help be a turning point to get it done.”
Katie Hegarty is the first PV volleyball player in school history to sign a Division I scholarship. She will join SMU on a full-ride, and the National Honor Society student with a 4.7 grade-point-average can't wait to enroll in classes.
“I started looking at SMU in January and then I happened to go to Texas. Their campus blew me away, and then I started looking at their academic programs,” she said. “It was the perfect package because of their engineering school and the volleyball program was a cherry on top. I feel like I stumbled on the perfect fit.”
Katie Hegarty plans on studying orthopedic surgery in medical school after finishing four years studying as a bio-engineer.
PV volleyball head coach Ron Becker was happy to see his star senior pick a school that benefited her academic pursuits, but he is sad to see her leave.
“She has been a huge asset to the program, and we will miss her. It has been a pure joy having her,” Becker said. “She brought the whole level of our team up, and it will be hard to replace her.”
Katie Hegarty joined PV as a junior after transferring from Aztec High. The move benefited in volleyball as the Lady Panthers placed second in the 4A state tournament, but the move also helped her when it came to the classroom.
“The academics here at PV are crazy. I am taking five AP classes right now and I have more homework than I can explain, but I love the challenge, and I thrive under it,” she said. “Every time they set a new standard, I try to reach the new standard. I will go to college with some credits already, and I think the experience of doing rigorous course work makes me happy knowing I already know the expectations.”
Though Katie Hegarty fell short of winning the state title this year, Matthew Hegarty knows that coming second can be an even larger motivator for high school athletes heading into college. After all, he had experience losing two football state title games as a lineman for Aztec.
“Playing in the title game gave her a great opportunity to lead and understand how much it takes to win a championship,” Matthew Hegarty said. “Playing in two title games in football was an incredible experience for me but, more importantly, I learned how motivating those losses can be for an athlete. When the grind of the season starts to set in, I just remember the terrible feeling of losing some of the big games, and it is a big motivation factor. I know Katie is the type of athlete that can make the translation because she truly wants to win.”
In just four years, Katie Hegarty has transformed from an athlete with raw talent to an athlete with natural abilities and technical prowess. She credits a year and a half of relentless work in the gym and the work of her club coaches and Becker.
“In the last two years, she has developed quite a bit and I even heard a few compliments from coaches who had seen her at Aztec years ago and now they are shocked at the improvement. Most of that comes from her club coaches because they have helped her a lot,” Becker said. “Katie has brought her game up to such a high level, and I am excited to see how she does at college. She is going to do well in college. She is going to be an amazing player.”
Katie Hegarty hopes to inspire more girls in the Four Corners to pursue their dreams in volleyball. She will miss seeing the faces of young girls in the stands of PV's gym, because she knows it was the high school players that motivated her as a little girl.
“Seeing the little girls at our games, it warmed my heart,” she said. “I remember being that kid looking up to Rayla Doty in Aztec. I always hoped to do that for someone else, and I hope there will be a ripple effect with the kids who watched our team play this year.”
Katie Hegarty knows she wouldn't have had the same opportunities without the help of her parents, Bryan and Stacy, and the countless hours they have dedicated to all of their children.
“They have been huge. I couldn't ask for a better support team and I am blessed to have such a strong foundation that allows me to excel the way I have,” she said.
Katie Hegarty will have plenty of resources if she has questions about life as a Division I athlete, but Matthew already has one piece of advice for his little sister.
“My best advice to her is not to change the recipe,” he said. “She has found the formula for success and I know she can translate that to the next level. Especially at this level, where everyone on the team was all-state in high school. It is the little things that help you go above and beyond and improve your game.”