Opalka’s Accolades Bring Her to the Top

Britney Dixon, Managing Editor

Growing up in a rural, traditional farmtown made Karli Opalka’s desire to pursue a career in marine biology and attend a university on the water that much more appealing.

At 6 feet tall, Opalka is the starting center on the women’s basketball team. Coming from Southbury, Conn. — a town with a population of just under 20,000, according to the 2017 census — Opalka was looking to remain in a tight-knit community, which she found on the team.

Though Opalka’s heart was drawn to the water, she still applied to Ithaca College in upstate New York.

“I only applied to two schools,” Opalka said. “I really was about to go [to Ithaca], but they didn’t have my major.”

One thing she did know from the start was that she wanted to continue to play sports in college. She also played volleyball in high school, but chose to only stick with basketball at RWU.

“I couldn’t picture myself going into college and not playing a sport,” Opalka said.

When Opalka was in third grade, her basketball career began. Initially, she didn’t want to play, but all her friends were joining so her friend’s dad convinced her to play with them. Opalka played through fifth grade for her town before joining the Southbury travel team, which combined with two neighboring towns.

According to Opalka, her best memories came from her years playing basketball.

Transitioning into college athletics last semester was initially scary for her. She was concerned about balancing academics and athletics, but having eight freshmen on the team and supportive upperclassmen was a major factor in a smooth start to the season.

This has shown through Opalka’s performance so far. With a .527 field goal percentage, 168 points and 142 total rebounds — 53 offensive and 89 defensive — she has landed a spot leading the team in field goals and rebounds.

Class of 2018 alumnus and former captain Anna Walther has seen Opalka play before and is excited for her future on the team.

“Her passion and energy she brings to the court is amazing,” Walther said. “She plays with determination and is constantly looking for an open teammate, to get the next rebound or dive for loose balls.”

Her stats also named her the Commonwealth Coast Conference and New England Women’s Basketball Association Rookie of the Week for week nine this season.

“I was definitely excited, but I wasn’t expecting it at all,” Opalka said. “I always go on the website to check and see who I know.”

Opalka said it’s exciting to see people they have played against on the website. For the upperclassmen, these faces are more familiar than they are to the freshmen.

So far this season, her biggest challenge was the game against Endicott College, though, she also mentioned that their road game against University of New England was an exciting obstacle to overcome as it was Head Coach Kelly Thompson’s first career win against UNE.

Before the end of her first semester, Opalka switched her major from marine biology to environmental science to get on a path toward environmental law. Though, one thing hasn’t changed and that’s her passion for the sport and her drive to get better.

“She is certainly a force to be reckoned with,” Walther said.