Sports, Women's Basketball

Looking for a leader: Senior steps into role

With an injury keeping senior Karina Figueroa out of the 49ers lineup, fellow senior Kaiti O’Brien has been thrust into the role of experienced leader for a young Long Beach State women’s basketball team this season.

O’Brien has embraced the role by bringing toughness and veteran savvy to a team that desperately needs it, as they have lost experienced players in Figueroa and LaTorya Barbee to injury early on in the 2008-09 campaign.

“I think I have the most experience on the team as far as knowing how coach [Mary Hegarty] wants her program to be run,” O’Brien said. “Enforcing how she wants things done, and to make sure everybody stays on track. That’s my leadership role.”

The senior has high hopes for LBSU this season, saying the team wants to win 20 games, win the Big West Conference, and make it to the NCAA Tournament. The team hasn’t made the Big Dance in the three years O’Brien has been at the Beach.

Traditionally the words athlete and valedictorian have not gone hand-in-hand, but in the case of this 49er post player it’s just not true.

O’Brien was the class valedictorian of Clovis West High School in 2005, and still managed to average 18.6 points and 9.4 in her senior season. She also won the league MVP twice during her career at Clovis West and was a Presidential Scholar, showing that athletes can do well on the court as well as in the classroom.

But with all the great off-the-court accomplishments and numerous academic accolades; why choose The Beach? For O’Brien, the answer was simple; she simply loves playing basketball.

“When I met the coaches and the team here [Long Beach State] I knew this was the place I wanted to come,” O’Brien said.

The senior also had full support from her parents and family in her decision to come to LBSU.

“They have always pushed academics, but they love sports,” O’Brien said. “They were happy with whatever decision I was wanted to make, but they are definitely happy I decided to continue playing basketball.”

The 6-foot-1 O’Brien contributes her toughness to her older brother, who was a baseball player at San Diego State and was drafted into the New York Yankees organization.

“My brother has always treated my as his little brother,” she said. “He’s always pushed me, and been a real big impact in my life. He’s made me a lot tougher and stronger.”

As for life after The Beach, O’Brien thought about following in the footsteps of her father by having a career in dentistry. But now she hopes to someday have a career combining two of her life’s passions: sports and medicine.

“Right now I’m considering being a physician’s assistant,” O’Brien said. “I’ve always been interested in medicine and I want to stay around athletes, so I’m hoping to find a good fit.”

O’Brien has seen many changes in her time at LBSU, but is positive about the transformation the team has gone through since her freshman season.

“From my freshman year to my senior year it has been a completely different team. Having new people is certainly different, but it’s exciting,” she said. “I like seeing how this team has progressed. We have gone through a lot of adversity, but I think that has only made us stronger. I think it’s going to make this season more exciting.”

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