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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

JOURNAL: A voice from the sideline

Photo by Isabel Bonebrake
Nirel Lougbo (center) joins arms with teammates Jordan King (left) and Claire Kaifes (right) prior to a Marquette women’s basketball game.

There are certain feelings that cannot be described through words alone. This was the case for senior women’s basketball member, Nirel Lougbo, who didn’t have the words for what she felt when she first toured Marquette back in 2018.

“I feel like a lot of people always hope to feel ‘That moment, that thing that makes you want to be here,’” Lougbo says. “And there was a moment when I was with the team in the locker room and everybody was together, hanging out, something very normal. And while I was there, I got that feeling that this is where I was supposed to be.” 

Without question, Lougbo committed to play at Marquette and made the 1,086 mile leap from her home in North Andover, Massachusetts to what would become her new home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

In her first year as a Golden Eagle, Lougbo played in each of Marquette’s 32 contests.

But when her sophomore season rolled around, Lougbo was redshirted. The following season, Lougbo appeared off the bench in just six games after suffering a knee injury.

Today, Lougbo remains on the team, despite being medically disqualified.

“The last two years were definitely the hardest that I’ve ever had to go through in my life, just mentally and physically the whole thing all together,” Lougbo says. “It was definitely tough, but I’m just thankful for the people and the relationships that I’ve made here that have made it a little bit easier during those times.”

One of these people is Lougbo’s teammate and roommate of the past four years, Senior Guard Claire Kaifes.

“Nirel is probably one of the funniest people I know. She’s absolutely hilarious, but she also takes that time to really get to know you, really have those solid conversations,” Kaifes says. “She’s one of the best friends I have and she’s great at balancing being funny while also taking care of business.”

Kaifes says she can always turn to Lougbo as a positive light on the team.

“When she was a player, she was a great player. She had a great IQ, great experience,” Kaifes says. “But then when she was injured, she took on more of that, ‘pull you aside, be a leader, one on one’ role. I think now that she has been ruled out, she’s taken advantage of that role.”

Kaifes, a senior guard who has also had her experiences with injury and recovery, says the connections Lougbo establishes with each and every coach, manager and player is what makes her presence so impactful.

“Whenever I was having a bad day, she was always there talking about her experiences from the year before and stuff like that,” Kaifes says. “She was always just a great listener for me, and I feel like I can reciprocate that also with her.”

Part of Lougbo’s bright light comes from her shiny smile, which is fitting as she will be starting dental school at Marquette next year.

“I decided to take the pre-dental track because I come from two parents who immigrated to this country and they never had those types of resources,” Lougbo says. “When I was growing up, they, like any parents, always wanted me to have the things they didn’t have and one of those things was dental care. Some people in my family, today, who live in Africa still might not have that same access. It’s something that I felt like I needed to do.”

Kaifes says Lougbo is always someone laughing and smiling. For Lougbo, she seeks to help others share their own shining smile.

“A smile is something that radiates so much onto someone else, and seeing someone with a nice smile and all these things, how that can change someone’s life,” Lougbo says. “I just knew I wanted kind of to be a part of that process for somebody else.”

Despite the academic challenges that result from being a D1 athlete on the pre-dental track, Lougbo says the team keeps her motivated. In return, she is a bright smile, a shoulder to cry on and a go-to listener for them.

Though this season marks the end of an era for Lougbo with the Golden Eagles, Head Coach Megan Duffy says she couldn’t be more excited and proud of the senior.

“Having her (Lougbo) around the team and in our locker room is wonderful,” Duffy says. “She’s one of the funniest people I’ve been around, she has a great personality and great IQ of basketball. In fact, she’s continuing to help some of our younger players and all the little things she’s adding to our team makes her that much greater to have around.”

This story was written by Ava Mares. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @avamaresMU.

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