Soccer, Sports

Imani McDonald brings grit to Long Beach State

An anchor on the defensive front. A leader in the community and the classroom. Imani McDonald defines the model student-athlete, and then some.

The senior goalkeeper for the Long Beach State women’s soccer team has made her mark far beyond the box where she’s logged 2,593 career minutes.

McDonald has done more than a serviceable job defending the net for the Long Beach State women’s soccer team (5-4-1) so far this season. With 43 saves, 10 goals given up and a .811 save percentage, she has battled and kept her team afloat in one of its toughest non-conference schedules to date.

“The ones that don’t go into their net trickle into your net, and the reason they don’t is because we have some big time saves from Imani,” head coach Mauricio Ingrassia said.

The 20-year-old is no stranger to the LBC, growing up in the Patterson Child Development Center, Minnie Gant Elementary and the historic “Funk House,” Long Beach Polytechnic High School.

McDonald has developed a true connection and devotion to the city, and chokes up when she speaks about what the city means to her.

[pullquote speaker=”Imani McDonald” photo=”” align=”left” background=”off” border=”all” shadow=”off”]I want to be able to be that alum that’s financially able to give back and supports her community as much as her community supported her.[/pullquote]

“I have a love for Long Beach like no other, LB runs in my blood,” McDonald said. “Although it’s not necessarily black and gold, it’s more green and gold because my high school ties are so true to me, but there’s definitely gold in there and there always will be.”

McDonald is not the average goalie on the pitch. She can be heard from all parts of George Allen Field encouraging, inspiring and shifting her teammates on the defensive side. After practice, she walks over with a busted lip and a dusty shirt, and talks about her commitment to her city.

While her loyalty between both schools is up for grabs, there is no uncertainty that McDonald has kept a balance of excellence both on the field and in the classroom.

This past summer, McDonald earned the Big West Service and Leadership award. Six Big West student-athletes were chosen for the award, and recipients were honored by being among “those who best engage with other student-athletes, and are involved with their campus community and the community surrounding their institution,” according to the Big West’s website.

McDonald not only prides herself on being the head of the 49ers defense, but also someone who leads by example, locally and internationally. A nine-day trip to Panama in late May opened her eyes about how much of a passion she has for helping others and what she wants to do in the future. The trip was a partnership between Long Beach State and Courts for Kids, a nonprofit organization that prides itself on cultural exchange and building multi-use courts for children around the world.

“I grew as a person, as a teammate. It made me so much more grateful for what we have here,” McDonald said. “I’m a middle class girl, never had a bunch of money, but these people were so willing.”

McDonald went on to talk about the generosity of the Panamanian locals, even while most live in what would be considered severe poverty in the U.S. She got a glance into the local’s daily lives when she ran out of clean clothes in the blistering tropics of Valle Rico, Panama.

“I did laundry the Panamanian way and absolutely loved it. It was a lot more work, it wasn’t just throwing [stuff] in the washer,” McDonald said.

Laundry the “Panamanian way” is much more rugged and gritty than what most people do in the U.S. The process includes soaking the clothes, scrubbing them with powder detergent on the concrete ground and rinsing. The hardest part is the last step, as hang drying comes with the risk of garments being ruined by rain in the country’s humid, maritime climate.

Like most people who’ve experienced trips around the world, new perspectives were opened up for McDonald. She came back to the Beach with new thoughts, ideas and reflections. but inspire her to give back more to the Long Beach community.

“My only thing is that I want to make my community proud,” McDonald said. “I want to be able to be that alum that’s financially able to give back and supports her community as much as her community supported her.” 

McDonald is also an executive for the Student Athlete Advisory Committee on campus and an ASI senator, elected to represent student-athletes at the university level.

“I’ve always been a talker but I think [the SAAC and ASI] helped me on the organizational front,” McDonald said. “When I have to organize a defense it’s similar to organizing an event, even though it is a little more fast-paced.”

As Big West conference play begins Thursday, McDonald hopes to lead the 49ers to the NCAA tournament during her last season.

“I’ve been playing soccer for 17 years and it’s coming to an end,” McDonald said. “My biggest thing is going out with a bang, making sure I play for my other seniors and just making sure we’re all on the same page. Hopefully we’ll go dancing.”

Whether or not Long Beach will be dancing into the NCAA Tournament, McDonald has left her mark on the women’s soccer program, the campus and the community.

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