Taking her Success in Stride

Taking her Success in Stride

Lisa Ohberg took a risk when she traded soccer balls for track cleats; the results were remarkable.

Lisa Ohberg

Lisa Ohberg was named the California Collegiate Athletic Association's Track Athlete of the Year after capturing conference titles in the 1,500 and 5,000 at the 2013 CCAA Track and Field Championship in June.

When Lisa Ohberg joined Cal State L.A.'s Intercollegiate Athletics program in the fall of 2010, she was a premier midfielder intent on helping the Golden Eagles maintain their status as one of the top women's soccer programs in the NCAA Division II. By the time she graduated this spring, Ohberg was a three-time All-American, an Academic All-American and the California Collegiate Athletic Association's Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year, thanks in large part to her accomplishments on the track, not the soccer field.

For student-athletes, making the jump to a new sport at the collegiate level is fairly unusual, and a change that few successfully achieve. In order to participate at the NCAA Division II level, after all, an athlete needs to be highly-skilled and prepared to compete against tough opponents.

"I was happy to transition into track," Ohberg says. "I wasn't real confident at first, but it was fun and I could see myself doing better. After that first season, I was all in. I was very motivated and wanted to be a really good runner."

Ohberg came to Cal State L.A. as a highly-touted soccer player after two outstanding seasons at Northwood University in Florida. Her competitiveness and drive to improve as a player led her to transfer to California, where she yearned to test her skills against tougher teams in the NCAA Division II.

In her first season with the Golden Eagles, she was fifth in scoring with three goals and six assists, and helped the team to a 15-4-1 record and a second straight CCAA South Division title. Ohberg, though, was determined to be even better in her second season.

"I didn't play as much as I wanted to in my first year, so I worked really hard for my senior season because I expected more," Ohberg says. "I gave everything I could. The coaches showed a lot of confidence in me and gave me a big role on the field."

In the second season, Ohberg led the team in scoring, including the game-winner in a 2-1 win over Seattle Pacific in the second round of the NCAA playoffs. The Golden Eagles reached the West Region championship match and were ranked 12th in the country.

But by the end of 2011, the business administration major had exhausted her soccer eligibility. Not content to stop competing, she decided to transform into a middle- and long-distance runner.

Ohberg's previous competitive running experience consisted of one race in her native Sweden when she was 12 years old.

"There were about 20 girls in the race, it was two miles and I finished dead last. I remember that quite clearly."

Cal State L.A. soccer coach Chris Chamides, though, was fully supportive of Ohberg's budding second-sport career.

"Lisa is one of the classiest student-athletes I have ever coached," Chamides says. "She grew as a competitor and I had no doubt, given her talent, work ethic and commitment, that she would be successful in track."

Ohberg benefitted from some training last summer with the Swedish national team and distance coach Ulf Friberg. That experience gave her confidence for her brilliant 2012-13 running campaign that started with All-CCAA (fifth-place finish) and All-West Region (10th-place finish) honors in cross country.

Indoor track post-season almost hit a snag when she barely qualified for the 1,500-meter championships in April. But she set a new personal record while posting the fastest qualifying time in the preliminaries and beat her personal best again in the finals while finishing second.

Lisa Ohberg running

Lisa Ohberg had a magnificent finish to her indoor season, shattering her previous best in the indoor mile and placing second in the event to earn her second All-America honor. Photo courtesy Division of Intercollegiate Athletics.

Her success fueled her outstanding outdoor track season in the spring, in which Ohberg captured conference titles in the 1,500 and 5,000, and was named CCAA Track Athlete of the Year. She then went on to finish second in the nation in the 1,500 at Pueblo, Colo., which was the program's best-ever finish in that event. Her best times of 4:25.21 in the 1,500 and 16:26.49 in the 5,000 are both No. 2 on Cal State L.A.'s all-time Top 10 list.

Thanks to her athletic and academic prowess, she was named the CCAA Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Ohberg was also the winner of the Billie Jean King Award as Cal State L.A.'s top female athlete and most recently earned Capital One/CoSIDA Academic All-America honors, becoming just the second CSULA female track athlete to earn those honors.

The awards seemingly came in one right after another for Ohberg.

"It was a little overwhelming. I wanted to be able to stop time and tell everyone I never could have done all of this alone. I felt like it was other people who got me here, my coaches and the other girls on the team," Ohberg says. "They were the ones who were always there for me, to push me, to motivate me and support me. This is so much because of them."

Ohberg now hopes to secure a sponsorship or club affiliation so she can continue running competitively and pursue her master's degree in business administration.

"I want to continue running; that's my goal right now," she says. "I don't know where or how it will work out right now, but I want to stay here (in the United States) and make it work."