Oct. 20, 2011
Every Thursday, UCLABruins.com will sit down with a member of the women's volleyball team. This week, we sit down with freshman Olivia Okoro, who talks about arriving at UCLA a quarter earlier than the other freshmen, the differences between Texas and L.A. and her beginnings with the sport of volleyball.
UCLABruins.com: You started school at UCLA a quarter early last March. How beneficial was it for you to come to school earlier than the other freshmen?
Olivia Okoro: I graduated from high school in January because I didn't have to take anymore classes and I didn't want to stay there longer than I had to and take electives for another quarter. I asked Mike (Sealy) if I could come early and he let me. It was extremely useful for me to come early. During the spring, Mike changed my entire arm swing and if I had come during the fall, I wouldn't be anywhere near where I am now.
.com: When and why did you decide to attend UCLA?
OO: During the summer between my sophomore and junior years is when I committed. I've wanted to go here since I was in the eighth grade.
.com: When was the last time you went back to home in Carrollton, Texas since you started school?
OO: I've gone home once for three days and then I had to come back for summer school. It's been a while.
.com: What aspect of Carrollton do you miss the most?
OO: The hominess. I knew all the shortcuts back home. I knew where I was going. And we'd go to the park and be active. Here you don't really do that.
.com: What is the biggest difference between living in Carrollton and Los Angeles?
OO: The crowdedness. L.A. traffic and just getting around Westwood takes a while. Carrollton is still a pretty big town, but I knew a lot of people there. Here I've been busy with volleyball, so I haven't had a chance to meet too many people besides other athletes.
.com: How has it been adjusting from living at home to living away from home?
OO: It's been OK. I've been kind of homesick. A lot of people on the team live close and go home often and I just go back home to my dorm, which doesn't have the food that I normally eat. You aren't seeing your parents for long stretches of time. That's hard.
.com: Were any of your siblings involved in sports?
OO: We were all involved in sports, but I'm the only one who is playing in college. My oldest brother (Chris) played football and basketball. My sister (Ivuoma), who goes to San Diego State and is coming up here this weekend, ran track and played basketball. But she's really smart and got an academic scholarship. My younger brother (Bryan) was in football and then he decided to stop for choir.
.com: You were a member of the 2010 USA Girls' Youth Olympic Team. How valuable was your experience playing with USA Volleyball?
OO: It was extremely valuable because when you get in that type of atmosphere you push yourself even further than you ever thought you could with girls who are just as good as you or even better. It forces you to step up your game. The experience you get playing against other countries and the friendships you make along the way are really nice.
.com: How has it been adjusting from high school volleyball to collegiate volleyball?
OO: It's almost about the same. I had a high school coach, Karin Keeney, who was really tough on us. She would never let us get away with the little things. It's the same way here. Mike is not as strict as she was, but he's still doing it the same way in his calm and cool manner. The fact that I had a really tough high school coach helped me because I wasn't shocked with the kind of work that we had to be doing here.
.com: When did you start playing volleyball?
OO: Eighth grade. I tried out in seventh grade and I didn't even really know what the sport was. I thought it was called `volleyvall.' I got cut in the first round in the seventh grade. I'd still be in the gym watching the girls practice and it still looked like fun, so I decided I was going to go to camp to try and get better at this. I made the B team in eighth grade, but I still wasn't satisfied because I really wanted to play this sport, so I went to more camps. My freshman year I ended up making JV and the next year I made the varsity and ever since then I kept with it.
.com: What has been your most exciting moment on the volleyball court?
OO: The 2010 State finals when we came back from 24-17 down in the third set to win 27-25. It was crowded and so loud and those are the best games to play in when the pressure is on. Everyone in the stands thought the set was gone, but on the court we knew we were winning this set.
.com: If you didn't play volleyball, what sport would you play?
OO: Track. I really love to high jump and that's what I did in high school. I also did all three relays. And it's just fun to run. Like when a coach would make me run for punishment, it's not a punishment because I like to run anyways. So I'm really just getting good exercise out of it. My high school coach couldn't find ways to punish me because I like it all.
.com: Go through your pre-game routine.
OO: I always have to listen to my iPod and the same Pandora station. I text my siblings and ask them to wish me luck before every game and then I call both my parents before the match starts and I tell them to wish me luck too. The two times I didn't do it we lost, at Pepperdine and at Washington. So now I have to make sure I do it before every single game.
.com: What are the best and worst things about traveling with the team?
OO: The best thing is hearing about what's going on in everyone else's lives outside of volleyball. In the gym all we do is play volleyball. We can't really side chat as often as we'd want to, so we save it for trips. There is nothing really bad about traveling except you miss school time.
.com: If you could trade places for a day with a celebrity, who would it be?
OO: I think it'd be cool to be (U.S. Women's National Team member) Destinee Hooker for a day because she's so good and popular. I like her attitude. She shows a lot of emotion when she plays. I like that. When she's mad you can tell she's mad and when she's happy you know she's happy. She just lets it all show. It's someone who I looked up to growing up playing volleyball. It'd also be cool to be Beyonce, minus Jay-Z. I wouldn't want to be married to him.
.com: If you could travel anywhere around the world, where would it be?
OO: Italy. I love any kind of Italian food and I heard they have some bomb food.
.com: If you could have one super power, what would it be?
OO: Flying, because sometimes Bruin Walk is crowded. Or if you are walking and someone just stops right in front of you. It's just awkward sometimes. So then I wouldn't have to deal with that. Just me and the birds.
.com: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
OO: Sleeping. I just like to be outdoors near water, but it has to be after the sun goes down because the sun will turn me purple.
.com: What is your biggest fear?
OO: Failure. Knowing that I have the potential but never being able to do it.
.com: Who is the team class clown?
OO: Priscilla (Duke-Ezeji). She's a character. She's always dancing. She's loud. She's just funny all the time. In awkward situations she'll just make everyone laugh. She's hilarious.
.com: What is your favorite website?
OO: YouTube. The other day I was on YouTube for five hours watching soldiers surprise their families when they come home. I was crying the whole entire time. It was so cute. I just couldn't stop watching. I had homework to do, which I finished the next morning, but I just couldn't get off YouTube because I just kept clicking and clicking.
.com: Who has been the most influential person/people in your life?
OO: My mom. She's really independent and she doesn't need anyone to tell her what to do. She knows exactly what we need. She'll call us just to call us. Last week she sent us care packages with candy and stuff in it. It was perfect timing because I was kind of upset that day. She's always been there for us and works her butt off for us. Also coach Michele Massey, who was an assistant at Hebron High School. We had a really close relationship. She watched me grow during high school. She shaped me into the person who I am today and was like a second mother. She taught me how to be a better middle blocker and being able to have fun with it without getting frustrated all the time.
Previous Thursdays With ...
Lauren Van Orden