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A sportswoman for all seasons

Canton grad Vicki O’Brien rarely rests at Worcester State

With 367 digs, Vicki O’Brien had the second-highest season total ever for Worcester State’s volleyball team this year. With 367 digs, Vicki O’Brien had the second-highest season total ever for Worcester State’s volleyball team this year. (Richard Orr)
By Jake Seiner
Globe Correspondent / November 24, 2011

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Vicki O’Brien was an impact player for the women’s volleyball team as a freshman at Worcester State, finishing second on the team with 246 digs.

This season, the Canton High grad did something not so uncommon for college sophomores: She got better. A lot better, actually. The libero’s 367 digs were the second-highest single-season total in team history. And following her lead, the Lancer backcourt set a program record with 1,556 digs as a unit.

Opponents took notice.

After his squad absorbed a 3-1 loss to Worcester State, Daniel Webster coach Braden Zamore pulled the 5-foot-5 O’Brien aside. A three-time New England Collegiate Conference Coach of the Year, he told O’Brien that she was the best libero he’d ever seen.

The coaches in the MASCAC took notice too, selecting O’Brien as a first-team all-conference pick.

What’s fascinating about O’Brien’s improvements is they are not the result of an offseason spent digging up spikes and hitting the gym to prep for the season. That’s not what she did last offseason, and it’s not what she’ll do this offseason.

Instead, the sophomore will head straight into preparation mode for the spring lacrosse season.

As O’Brien played through the volleyball season this fall, the lacrosse team was playing fall ball and prepping for the spring season. This spring, while O’Brien is playing lacrosse, the volleyball team will be training and playing intramural ball to keep sharp.

The busy offseasons haven’t hurt O’Brien’s production, though.

“When lacrosse ends, she’s just ready to go play volleyball,’’ Worcester State coach Bernie Chase said. “It’s like she hasn’t stopped playing.’’

“It doesn’t really affect me too much,’’ O’Brien said. “I’m staying in shape, and both coaches are very understanding.’’

The transition from sport to sport is easier because the physical talents required for both are similar.

“It’s funny, you’d think lacrosse would require more endurance,’’ O’Brien said. “With volleyball, the plays can last so long, and I’ll be running the whole time, especially playing defense.’’

O’Brien began her college search thinking she’d try playing multiple sports. Initially, she’d hoped to play ice hockey, but her college search landed her at Worcester State, which has no women’s hockey.

“I’d played hockey all through high school, and that was my first instinct going in,’’ O’Brien said. “Those sports, hockey and lacrosse, literally overlap, and when I got to Worcester State, there was no hockey team, so I went out for lacrosse instead.’’

On the lacrosse pitch, O’Brien started nine games last year, tallying six goals and three assists as an attacker.

Her hope is to improve in lacrosse as she did in volleyball. O’Brien credited a lot of her improvements this past season to comfort and confidence.

“Last year, being a freshman, I was kind of quiet and didn’t have too much confidence,’’ O’Brien said. “I tried hard, but I still felt like a little freshman on the team. This year, I went in with more confidence, and I felt better.

“It’s a different game when you believe in yourself and know you can run the ball down. Instead of just running after it and maybe not getting there, I know I can dive and hit it. My confidence built up so much for this year. Knowing the girls, knowing the coach, having that year of experience, I knew I could get so much better.’’

That confidence, paired with the building block talents she’d developed under Pat Cawley at Canton High, made her one of the top defensive players in the league last year.

Cawley “taught me how to read the ball and explained where to be and when, and the timing and transitioning and how important all that is,’’ O’Brien said. “She really got that in my head early. Every time the ball falls, I know where I’m supposed to be.’’

Jake Seiner can be reached at jseiner24@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Seiner.