For junior Lea Sobieraski, basketball is more than just a college activity - it's a lifelong passion.
“Growing up, I was such a tomboy. All I wanted to do was play sports and be with the boys,” Sobieraski said in a phone interview.
Though she said she has been playing the sport for as long as she can remember, her first experience with competitive basketball was in fifth grade with her local recreational league. Now in her waning college years, Sobieraski, a business administration major from Lockport N.Y., serves as captain of the Geneseo women's basketball team.
Sobieraski said Geneseo was not on her original list of colleges to apply to, but when the women's basketball head coach Scott Hemer scouted her at one of her high school games, she said she decided to visit and stay overnight with the girls of the basketball team.
“That next morning I just knew that [Geneseo] was for me,” she said, adding that the girls were “a family, more than just a group of teammates that are brought together because of basketball.”
Sobieraski said her freshman year was one of the best seasons she's had here in Geneseo. That year, the team won the 2011 SUNYAC Championship, an achievement Sobieraski said outweighed her small amount of playing time.
Playing the position of forward, Sobieraski said that by the second half of her sophomore season, she was starting games regularly and playing longer.
In her sophomore year, she also chose to take a more vocal stance and to encourage her teammates, leading to a team captain position her junior year.
“For me, being a leader, it's more getting your teammates to join you rather than follow you,” she said.
Though she played the first five games of the current season, Sobieraski has taken the spring semester off, as she was diagnosed in December with a rare genetic disease called Wilson's disease. She said the disease, which prevents her body from processing copper, has severely affected her liver, and after spending weeks in and out of the hospital, she is currently awaiting a transplant.
When she learned she would need a liver transplant, Sobieraski said her parents drove immediately to a blood donation center to learn their blood types. Her father was a match to her own.
“My dad found out, and we both started crying,” she said.
Now, with her father in the third phase of the living liver donor evaluation process, Sobieraski said they may be able to undergo the transplant in late March. If her father is not a perfect match, however, she will have to wait for a cadaver.
Through all of this, Sobieraski said her teammates have been incredibly supportive. She has even been able to catch some of the team's games, and for games she cannot attend, she sends a text to the girls wishing them luck.
“I consider them like my second family … they've been amazing,” she said.
Looking ahead, Sobieraski said she cannot wait to get back to the campus she's missed so much this semester.
“I miss everything about it, like just a slice of [Mama] Mia's pizza, or going to the hockey game or just sitting in the library on a Sunday night,” she said. “I never would have thought I would miss that.”
Should she have her transplant surgery in March, Sobieraski said she will have recovered by the fall semester. She said she is looking forward to living with some of her teammates and friends in a house off campus and resuming her position as team captain, even if she cannot play as much as she used to.
“I'm very dedicated and hardworking, so if I have a goal, I will do what I can to get there,” she said.