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  • Matt Ondesko

Striving to be the best

by Matthew Ondesko, Managing Editor

Photos: Geoff Schneider/Sports Union

Every athlete wants to be the best at what they do. It’s, after all, why they do it. It’s why they put in those long days in the gym on a 90 degree day. It’s why they work on their jump shot for hours upon hours in the offseason.

It’s why they don’t have an offseason.

So what you will about Michel Jordan as the type of person he may have been with his teammates, there is one thing that you could never question about him and that was hit heart. He wanted to win worse than anyone who ever laced up a pair of sneakers.

He wanted to be the best, and the only way he knew how to do that was by driving and pushing himself and his teammates. He may have gotten under their skin at times, but they respected him. They wanted to work just as hard as him to help him bring home titles.

When deciding what school to transfer to early in her college career, Buffalo State College women’s basketball player Liv LeBaron knew one thing - that she wanted to be the best their was to ever put on a Bengals’ jersey.

During her time at Buffalo State, LeBaron achieved the goals thats he set out to accomplish. She was one of the best to ever wear a Bengals’ jersey and she helped bring the program to the heights that it was accustomed to playing at.

“When I transferred, I wanted to make a change. I sat down with Buffalo State Athletic Director Jerry Boyes and he asked me why I wanted to come play for Buffalo State,” stated LeBaron. “I set told him I wanted to change this program. So that’s exactly what I did. I came in with goals, goals of being an All-American, and the best female basketball player to come out of Buffalo State, and I did just that.”

For her to be the best, LeBaron needed to put aside some of the personal goals that she wanted to achieve. We know that sounds kind of weird. But ,LeBaron knew for her too reach some of the goals she wanted to reach, she would need her teammates to buy in to the way she wanted to practice and play the game.

It was an easy buy in. The Bengals have a very talented roster that wants to win. They have young women who have come from winning programs and wanted to put Buffalo State back on the map. LeBaron was the straw that stirred the drink.

She was the missing piece to a team that had the desire to be better at every facet of the game, both on and off the court.

“I worked hard and built with my team. I set aside personal goals that I wanted to reach. I never expected I would have received the accolades I did,” stated LeBaron. “It is a bittersweet feeling knowing that I did accomplish it.”

You would think a player like LeBaron wouldn’t have confidence issues.

Think again.

As good as a player LeBaron is she never felt that way. May be that’s what drove her to be the best. May be that fear of thinking that someone if always going to better than her field the fire for her to become as great as she is.

LeBaron was, and is, her own motivator. Having that fear of someone being better that her made her be the best player she could be. This past season, LeBaron walked the walk, and talked the talk.

Is was a different person that walked through those gym doors for her final season on the court, and everyone in the room could tell.

“I used to have a problem with thinking I wasn’t the best and that there were always girls better than me,” stated LeBaron. This year, I decided to walk, talk and act like I was the best. It pushed me and motivated me to be the best in the league, and I wash;t going to stop for anything. My father has always pushed me and told me I could do these amazing things, but it took me actually thinking these things for me to do it. For that reason I can confidently say that I reached the goals I wanted and hoped that I would achieve. The things I didn’t get have given me more drive to excel in the next chapter of my basketball career.”

LeBaron’s hard work paid off this season as she was named an All-American. All the sweat she put in on and off the court finally paid off. The extra time in the gym before and after practice. The workouts in the heat and humidity during the sum me finally paid off.

Being named an All-American is the highest accomplishment an athlete can achieve, and LeBaron didn’t take this recognition lightly.

“It is really a special feeling being named All-American. I always thought it was the highest form of an achievement you could get when you’re in college athletics,” stated LeBaron. “I wanted it so bad but for some reason it always seemed out of reach. I remember thinking to myself “what do I have to do to be an All-American? What more can I do?” Part of me was scared I wouldn’t get it, but I knew that I deserved it, so I just kept playing hard. When I saw my name on the list, I felt a rush of happiness come over me because I know my hard work had paid off.”

With individual awards doesn’t happen without having great teammates around you, and LeBaron certainly had that. Her back court running mate  Katie Villarini is just as competitive as LeBaron is.

Those two fed off each other. Pushing each other to be better on the court, and to recognize the game at a different speed. LeBaron credits Villarini with having a very high basketball IQ, and that definitely helped both of them on the court.

“Playing with Katie was good for both of us. We were both so competitive that we made our team better around us. When one of us said something to the other it was a quick “Yep, got it, let go” and that was it,” stated LeBaron. “We were the leaders of our team and we made sure that our teammates were good, and we ran the court. When she was hitting, I was creating plays. When I was on, she was creating. We’d watch game films and four girls would slide onto me whenever I got near the paint, so we knew for the next game what types of plays would work. She has a very high IQ of the game, and it made her a good point guard.”

As her college career finally comes to an end, LeBaron knows she a very lucky person. Basketball has taught her a lot about herself as a person, and as a player. It’s those kind of life lessons that she may have not  gotten to experience if she wasn’t playing the sport that she loves.

LeBaron is thankful for everything that she has achieved during her basketball journey, one that may or may not have needed yet.

“Some of the things in my life that basketball has given me are things I learned, or wouldn’t have learned as much about, if I had never played. I am so thankful for the gift God gave me to play because of the experiences I have had,” stated LeBaron. “I’ve learned things about my work ethic, how hard I work and the lengths I’ll go to make sure I don’t ever give up. I’ve leaned to not take no for an answer, and that the next time around you come back 10 times harder and stronger. Basketball has taught me relationships, tough love, heartbreak, and most of all, how to always push myself more. I can always do more. That is something that I will always institute into my daily life. I love who I am, and who I’ve become - and basketball has molded and shaped me into that person.”


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