Q & A: Women's Basketball Senior Carrie Ojeda
After quiet and somewhat conflicted start to her
career, senior center Carrie Ojeda came on strong in her junior
season, and will now leave the program with her name etched in the
record book, plus a few special accolades that only a few in
Eastern history share
• SENIOR DAY •
By Fedor Gaponenko, EWU Sports Information
The transition from high school basketball to Division I college basketball is different for everyone. For Carrie Ojeda of the Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team, it was not perfectly smooth. But despite some early struggles , Ojeda was able to persevere for quite an impressive career with the Eagles.
Among the top 10 players in school history for games played and in the top five for blocked shots, Ojeda has been a part of three winning seasons with EWU. One of which was the illustrious 2009-10 campaign, in which the Eagles captured the school’s first-ever Big Sky regular-season title, and went on to play in the first national postseason tournament for EWU since 1987.
But considering the way her career started, Ojeda did not imagine any of this possible. Her first season as an Eagle started with some self doubt, as she struggled to reach and maintain the high level of fitness that it takes to be a Division I athlete. Going from a star player on your high school team to fighting tooth and nail for floor time helped Ojeda gain perspective and mature quickly.
She became a constant in the Eagle starting lineup as a sophomore, and really broke out as a contributor her junior year. Now in her senior season with more than 2,000 minutes logged in her career, she is averaging 10 points and seven rebounds per game, as well as 1.6 assists, 1.1 steals and her favorite stat to note, 1.0 blocks per game. Ojeda has also had six double-doubles this season, while setting career-highs in points (21), rebounds (17) and assists (6).
With at least two games remaining in her career, Ojeda should finish at least sixth in the all-time record book for career games played. She is also currently fifth on the career blocks list with 120, and although that is certainly a commendable achievement, Ojeda wishes it were a lot more.
On Saturday (March 9), when the Eagles take on Weber State in the regular-season finale, Ojeda will suit up for the final time in front of her home crowd at Reese Court, where she has played a total of 55 games in her tenure. Prior to tipoff, Ojeda will be honored alongside fellow seniors Courtney Nolen and Jordan Schoening in a poignant send off to a group of players who have three winning seasons, four tournament berths and a Big Sky Championship to their credit.
You have made your way into the top 10 list in school history for most games played by an Eastern basketball player…did you ever imagine you would be in this position?
“No, I honestly didn’t. I don't even know what the most games played by someone is, and I had no idea where I stood in those rankings, but it is very exciting.”
How challenging was it early on in your career adjusting to the pressures of being a Division I student-athlete?
“My first year was rough. I didn’t know what to expect, and I definitely didn’t expect it to be so much more intense than high school. But I think by my sophomore year, I adapted and it was easier and easier. It is tough coming in your freshman year and learning all the plays and adjusting to the pace, but it is all just part of going to college.”
Was there ever a time where you thought it might be too difficult to adjust to all the new expectations?
“We have a conditioning test that we have to pass every year, and my freshman year, it was really tough. I didn’t think I was ever going to pass it. I remember talking with the coaches and saying ‘I don’t think I’m good enough to be here and I don’t think I can do this.’ But by the time it was my sophomore and junior year, I passed that test on my first try.”
What did that test entail?
“It’s mostly just a lot of running. It’s called The Basketball Mile, and our coaches and strength coaches kind of intimidate you and scare you with it at first. I never really did a conditioning test in high school. I was a star there, but wasn’t when I came here - and I was out of shape too. You learn fast though and eventually I caught on.”
How were you able to persevere and make the commitment to do what it takes to be a Division I athlete?
“When I came here, I had a bad attitude and the second something was hard, I wanted to be done. Most of it was just me growing up and understanding that things are going to be difficult. But as I keep pushing myself, it gets easier and easier. My teammates and coaches believed in me, I just needed to start believing in myself.”
You’ve been appearing in games since your freshman year, but in your junior season, you broke out as one of the leaders on the team. What helped you make that transformation?
“Mostly it was just confidence. My freshmen year I played, but I wasn’t a starter or a big part of the rotation. As a sophomore, I started and I think most of that year was just figuring it all out, while being a role player and doing whatever I could to help. Junior year, I needed to step up. The coaches told me I needed to score more and get rebounds. They put that responsibility on me and I just ran with it.”
Now as a senior, how have you honed those leadership skills?
“I’m one of our main talkers; I try to keep everyone on the same page on the court. I’m really outgoing and loud, and I think my team kind of feeds off of that sometimes.”
I know you take pride in your shot blocking ability…what does it mean to you to be in the top five all time in blocking at Eastern?
“I’m glad. I wish I could beat my old teammate, Nicole Scott, who is in fourth right now. That would be cool, but I’m glad I’m in the top five. I really enjoy blocking shots.”
Recently, you posted a career-high of 21 points against North Dakota (March 2). What enabled you to have that kind of performance?
“Well, honestly, I’m not totally sure what it was. The first shot I took went in and then from there, all of them seemed to fall. They were all normal shots that I always take - it was just my night I guess. Our point guard did a good job of getting me the ball where I wanted it, so that helped a lot. Coach told us to be fearless, and when it’s our shot, take it. I did, and they went in.”
What were some of your goals going into your senior season?
“I wanted to average a double-double - that was one of my biggest goals. I haven’t been able to quite do that this year, so that’s a bit disappointing, but I’ve had a lot of double-doubles, so that’s good. The main goal though is to win the Big Sky Tournament.”
Is there anything else you feel you want to accomplish or any marks you want to hit before your career is over?
“I want to put another banner up and get to the NCAA Tournament. We are trying to stay focused and get there, and I think we can. We have a great team and we are well rounded. I’m excited to get to the Big Sky Tournament and see what happens.”
Do you expect to have a lot of emotions on Saturday when you play at Reese Court for the last time in your career… is this a day you’ve been looking forward to?
“Yea I’m probably going to cry. Actually, I’m pretty sure I will. I’m really going to miss my teammates and the basketball overall. It is going to be tough, but everyone has to go through it. It’s very bittersweet. You look forward to it because it’s all about you as the senior, but at the same time, it’s sad because it’s coming to an end and no one wants it to end.”
What are some of your best memories from your time here at Eastern?
“I have a lot. One of my favorite ones was when we won the Big Sky title during my freshman year. Outside of basketball, my teammates and I hang out all the time, so we have a lot of memories. We made a music video last year at a hotel in Montana - I’m never going to forget that. I’ve been here a long time and have a lot of good memories; it’s hard to point to a specific one.”
What are you planning to do with your criminal justice degree once you graduate?
“When I first went into it, I wanted to work at a juvenile detention center, but since then I’ve decided I wanted to be a firefighter. My dad was a firefighter when I was younger, but I didn’t remember that, so when I told my mom she said, ‘Oh that’s weird because your dad was one.’ I don’t even know why I decided this, but one day, I just decided I want to be a firefighter. Ever since, I’ve been looking into it and I’m really excited to pursue that.”