Julia Wiercigroch blazes trails in rookie season

First-year outside hitter racks up awards in rebound season for women’s volleyball

Wiercigroch was recently named OUA Rookie of the Year.
Supplied by Queen's Athletics and Recreation

As she dived towards her 20th dig of the match against the University of Toronto during her rookie season as a Gael, Julia Wiercigroch was confident. Playing in the starting lineup — let alone this well — was something the first year knew was uncommon for someone her age.

“I was like, ‘hit it at me one more time, I got you,’” Wiercigroch told The Journal as she reflected on arguably her strongest game of the season. Playing at this level was something Wiercigroch said she never visualized this prior to the season.

“To be honest, I didn’t expect much … I just wanted to compete for a spot and learn from the veterans,” she said.

By the end of the women’s volleyball season, the Gaels game against U of T acted as just one example of how Wiercigroch developed into one of the top rookies in Canada. After finishing in the OUA’s top 20 for points per set (3.1), kills per set (2.65) and hitting percentage (0.204), she was named the OUA Rookie of the Year in the conference’s East division. She was also named to the OUA Second All-Star team and U Sports All-Rookie team.

While Wiercigroch is aware of the work she put in to reach this success, she credits much of her development to women’s volleyball head coach Ryan Ratushniak.

“[He] gave me the opportunity to work my way up and to stay in the starting lineup,” Wiercigroch said. “He’s a great coach … I don’t think I’ve ever experienced someone like him.”

For Wiercigroch, who represented Team Ontario at this year’s Canada Games, the opportunity to play volleyball and study at Queen’s was a two-pronged decision.

“I liked the balance between academics and athletics,” Wiercigroch said. “I was going to do engineering and volleyball anywhere, Queen’s was the best choice.”

In addition to the school’s strong academic and athletic standing, Wiercigroch had no interest in playing for the OUA’s best teams such as McMaster and U of T. In the last five years, these two teams have won four of the province’s championships. 

“I want to be on the team that takes those teams down and people are not expecting it,” Wiercigroch said. “I want to be the underdog and just work towards taking down the big names.”

In her first season, she and the Gaels did just that. After finishing the previous season 10-10, Queen’s finished the 2018 season with a 13-7 record, which included a pair of dominant wins against McMaster and U of T.

After being named to the U Sports All-Rookie Team, Wiercigroch travelled to Quebec City to receive the honour at the U Sports Championships. While she was there, Wiercigroch watched the nation’s top teams battle it out for a national title. 

“I think we have a chance any day competing with the teams out there,” Wiercigroch said. “The teams I saw there aren’t any better than we [are] and I think we could outperform them.”

With the confidence the Gaels have built this season under Ratushniak and a strong group of veterans returning, told The Journal she’s confident in her team’s ability to improve on the past season. Similar to many varsity athletes, she will live in Kingston this summer to train.

“We’ve accomplished so this much this year — who knows what can happen next year,” she said. “We’re going to be a way stronger team and we’re going to compete hard.”

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