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Fellow teammates Ataira Franklin and China Crosby have referredto her as “an athletic freak of nature.” Three days before the start ofthe season, head coach Joanne Boyle offered an extremely accurateprognostication.

“She is a tremendous athlete, but very raw. So much potential.When the lights come on and the fans are there, you are going to seesome things we weren’t able to do last year on the boards and runningin transition and hustle plays.”

When the lights turned off at John Paul Jones Arena on Nov. 9,sophomore forward Sarah Imovbioh had crashed the boards to thetune of 10 rebounds and had hustled her way to 22 points, tying themost ever by a rookie Cavalier in the season opener.

“At that opening tip, I was really, really nervous,” Imovbioh said. “Ithink it took the first five minutes to get it out of my system. WhenI got it out, I just started playing. It seemed normal, just like in practice.When I got the rip-n-go and I went to the basket, I could hearthe crowd and the support and that made me really really excited.”

Imovbioh’s debut was delayed a year after the NCAA ruled that shehad to sit out last season because of a gap in her high school enrollmentwhile living in Nigeria. She moved to Charlottesville whenshe was a 16-year-old sophomore, leaving behind her parents, twobrothers, and a sister to pursue the opportunity to play in America.

“It’s really hard because I really miss them a lot. I can’t wait togo back and see them,” Imovbioh said. “I communicate with themmostly through Facebook, or at least my sister. My mom is not intoFacebook, so I talk to her on the phone a couple of times a week.”

Imovbioh has only been home once since coming to America. It was,ironically, the thing that originally took her away from her homecountry that gave her the opportunity to go home.

“Two summers ago, I was playing for the Nigerian national teamand I got to go home for seven days,” Imovbioh said. “We went toFrance after that to compete, but it was nice to see them for a littlewhile.”

The Nigerian national team was training in Washington, D.C., priorto their brief stop in the homeland and subsequent trip to Europe.Imovbioh plans to train with them again this summer, probably inFlorida or possibly again in Washington D.C. She is hoping that theteam will again head back to Nigeria.

Aside from her family, she also really misses the food of her homecountry, especially pounded yams, banga soup, Nigerian stew, andplantains. It didn’t take long, however, to find new American loves.

“The first thing I fell in love with in America was McDonalds,”Imovbioh said. “I landed in D.C. and I was hungry and the drivertook me to McDonalds. I was like “WOW!!!!!!” I love the fries. Everyday. Every night I had French fries straight for a month. They had tostop me. I love the French fries.”

The transition to living in the United States was not an easy one.With English as her self-described “seventh language” (she is fluentin multiple Nigerian dialects including Benin, Edo, Hausa, Ibo, andYooba as well as knowing a little bit of Arabic), it took her awhile toadjust. Once she did, Virginia became her top choice for college, notwanting to leave her beloved second home.

She credits her host family and guardians, Julia and Phil Stinnie,for giving her the support and acceptance she needed to make itthrough the transition. She also credits them for introducing her toher other love: the Olive Garden.

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