Homegrown hustle

Jamie Wright went from walk-on to starter in under a year

Head coach Brenda Willis originally contemplated redshirting setter Jamie Wright before last year’s Bulgaria exhibition trip, where he stepped up after two other setters couldn’t play.
Head coach Brenda Willis originally contemplated redshirting setter Jamie Wright before last year’s Bulgaria exhibition trip, where he stepped up after two other setters couldn’t play.
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Jamie Wright wasn’t recruited to play Gaels volleyball, but he knew he wanted to attend Queen’s.

The school — and its athletic programs — is in the second-year setter’s blood.

His older sister Jenny is the leading scorer on this year’s women’s basketball team, and his father Bob quarterbacked Gaels football to the 1983 conference championship, before falling in the Vanier Cup.

Wright wanted to follow in their footsteps by attending Queen’s, but he had to take a more circuitous route on the athletic side. Despite being a standout high school volleyball player in Kingston, he wasn’t recruited by the Gaels.

Still, he enrolled at Queen’s as a kinesiology student and decided to show up for open tryouts. He wound up finding a spot on the roster.

After sitting out Queen’s first 10 games as a rookie, Wright first got the chance to showcase his skills halfway through 2013-14 — when the Gaels went on an exhibition tour of Bulgaria, and Queen’s other setters were unable to play due to injuries.

“It was my turn to step up,” Wright said. “After that, I just started playing a lot better.”

Wright stepped on the court in OUA play for the first time in a four-set loss to the Waterloo Warriors on Jan. 11, 2014. Since then, he has become an essential piece of the Gaels’ schemes.

In last week’s tussle with the McMaster Marauders, he put up 31 assists and contributed a kill — an at-the-net spike that drew applause from the stands and back slaps from all the other Gaels on the court.

Wright grew up playing basketball and volleyball in Kingston. He picked up volleyball in elementary school, played at Regiopolis-Notre Dame Secondary School and competed with the Kingston Pegasus, a local club team.

Both sports he played growing up appealed to Wright at the university level.

“I knew I wanted to play one of them,” he said. “I just wasn’t sure [which].”

The only thing he was sure of was his desire to come to Queen’s. Wright had an inside source who could tell him all about life as a student-athlete — his older sister, who’s currently a fourth-year wing on the basketball team.

“I was giving him information about going to school while playing a varsity sport,” Jenny said. “I really wanted him to come here.”

Jenny described her brother as “humble” and “genuine”, adding that she’s very proud of him.

“Our relationship has gotten stronger since being here,” she said. “We’re both going through the same thing and can relate to each other.”

Jenny believes her brother is more assertive on the court this season.

“He’s always been a very soft-spoken guy, but I think he’s becoming more confident in a leadership role and in his play,” she said.

Wright has averaged 8.73 assists per set this season — seventh best in the OUA. But it hasn’t been a seamless transition to the starting lineup.

Before Jamie’s showcase on the Bulgaria trip, he was behind two other setters: Matthew Bonshor and fellow rookie Thomas Ellison.

“Jamie really came out of nowhere for us last year,” said men’s volleyball head coach Brenda Willis.

Wright hadn’t turned any heads in practice until the mid-season trip, and Willis said she had considered redshirting him — meaning Wright wouldn’t touch the floor at all during his first season.

“I believe that playing time is earned in practice,” Willis said. “And Jamie didn’t look, in practice, like he was going to be an option for us.”

With the other setters out of the Bulgaria tournament, Willis was in a tight spot.

“I needed to turn to Jamie, and when he went on the floor, it was like a different guy,” she said. “He quarterbacked fluidly and all the guys kept coming and saying they really liked having him as the setter and so I rode that.”

Willis described Jamie as a “gamer” — someone who plays their best during matches, as opposed to practices.

“If you’re going to have a guy that does one better than the other, then it’s certainly better to have the gamer,” she said.

“I just need him to keep making progress in practice.”

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