Keira Al-Mohareb really enjoys traveling - as long as she is not whistled for it, that is.
Ever since she became serious about her sport, the 2008-09 CNI Newspapers All-Suburban Girls Basketball Player of the Year has been going places.
And the Whitnall High School senior's next destination is the collegiate level.
Keira was inspired to take up the sport by her older sister, Kailey, an all-Woodland Conference player at Whitnall. Keira began playing as a fourth-grader with Metro South Basketball before progressing through the middle-school ranks.
And she did not just play. She approached the game with an uncommon drive and determination, thanks to a great inspiration.
"From the start, it was always my older sister," Keira said. "I saw how hard she worked to be good in basketball. I saw when she got injured her senior year how upset she was about that. When something like that happens, you care about it so much more.
"I played every game like it was my last because I knew an injury could happen. Thank God it didn't."
Keira reached what she considers a life-changing crossroads four years ago.
"When I got to high school, I started to play AAU ball, for the Lakers," she said. "That helped me a lot, especially the last two summers. We traveled so much and played so many tournaments. Over two years, we played about 60 games.
"We went to Cincinnati, Atlanta, Vegas, California, Phoenix, Penn State ... all over. The commitment was so worth it. It was so much fun."
Al-Mohareb did not have tunnel vision for club ball, though.
She was intent on carrying on her sister's legacy at Whitnall after watching the Falcons reach the state tournament in 2005.
She joined the varsity as a sophomore and became a starter in the second half of the season. Her drive was fueled before her junior campaign began when the Falcons were projected to finish last in the Woodland Conference South Division by Wisconsin Womens Basketball Yearbook.
The snub provided a valuable incentive for the entire Whitnall team and helped propel the Falcons all the way to the division championship.
"Last year, people doubted us," Al-Mohareb said. "It was great to go from being an underdog to winning conference. That was awesome."
The Falcons found themselves in a different role entering this season. They were picked to win the division, and they responded to that challenge as well, going 15-1 in league play.
"Last year, we had to go and fight each game to prove something," Al-Mohareb said. "Then this year, it was more the pressure of getting done what we did last year. To win it two years in a row, we were really happy about that."
Whitnall coach Keith Larson enjoyed watching Al-Mohareb's game develop.
"As a sophomore, she saw she could compete at the varsity level and became very dedicated to the game, both inside and outside of our program," Larson said. "She was a leader who led by example and earned the respect of her teammates and opposing players."
The 5-foot-9-inch Al-Mohareb averaged 16 points, 12 rebounds, averaged 2.6 assists and 2.9 steals and shot 55 percent from field this season. She posted an amazing 16 double-doubles, was a repeat CNI All-Suburban selection and was chosen Woodland South Player of the Year for the second straight year.
"I've coached a lot of good ones, and she's right up there with the best," Larson said. "She plays that old-school game and has that work ethic where she keeps plugging away all game long."
Al-Mohareb does not leave that work ethic in the Whitnall gym, either.
She posted grade-point averages of 4.0 and 3.9 in the first two quarters of her senior year. And she is no couch potato once the prep basketball season ends.
"I got a Princeton Club membership from my dad, and that was the best birthday present ever," she said. "I'm there almost every day. (Former Whitnall standout) Abbey Pelkofer and I are the only girls who really play basketball there, so we're usually playing five-on-five with the guys. It really helps playing against bigger guys. I think that'll really help prepare me for college, because I'm small for a post.
"A lot of the guys have played at the college level. It's good competition."
Al-Mohareb will have to seek out new practice partners as she heads off to college. She plans to study international business and marketing.
"I'm pretty set on going to the University of Tampa," she said. "It seems like a really good school. It's about 45 minutes from my family down there. I applied and got accepted. I'm touring the campus March 30 and will be meeting the coach."
Al-Mohareb's next coach will have a tough act to follow. Make that two of them.
"Over the past three years, Coach Larson has been great," she said. "He always knew what to say so that I was ready for a game and confident in what I do on the court. All of my teammates have been great, and I wouldn't be anywhere without them.
"My AAU coach, Michael Ellis, is the one who pretty much made me want to play in college. When I first started with the Lakers, I wasn't sure about playing at the collegiate level. After having the fun we had traveling so much, that made me want to continue playing."
Yes, Keira Al-Mohareb is leaving the Falcons' nest, headed onward and upward. And those who have followed her career can rest assured that she has earned her wings.
Mark Hutchinson can be reached at (262) 446-6614.
CNI All-Suburban Girls Basketball Players of Year
2008-09: Keira Al-Mohareb, Whitnall
2007-08: Kelsey Sperka, New Berlin Eisenhower
2006-07: Ashley Imperiale, Greendale
2005-06: Katie Wysocky, Whitefish Bay
2004-05: Nicolle Lewis, Muskego
2003-04: Kelly Lam, Brookfield East
2002-03: Chelley Hahn, Franklin
2001-02: Tierra Shirley, New Berlin West
2000-01: Jen Braier, Wauwatosa East
1999-2000: Christine Rathke, Franklin
1998-99: Christine Rathke, Franklin
1997-98: Jamie Turtenwald, West Allis Hale
1996-97: Kelly Svetz, Brookfield Central
1995-96: Laura Gehrke, West Allis Central
1994-95: Tanisha Boston, Bay View
1993-94: Angela Jackson, West Allis Central
1992-93: Melissa Maas, Wauwatosa East
1991-92: Melissa Maas, Wauwatosa East
1990-91: Nicole Polka, Greendale
1989-90: Nicole Polka, Greendale