Q&A: Leilani Kapinus

The Lady Lions’ senior guard learned how to compete—and how to bounce back—at an early age.

photo of Kapinus on the basketball court by Cardoni


Q: You grew up in Big Ten country, in (Madison,) Wisconsin. What led you to Penn State?

KAPINUS: Originally, I didn’t have an offer from Penn State. It wasn’t until (head coach Carolyn Kieger) got the job here. She had been recruiting me for Marquette. She called me, and she told me her vision that she had for (Penn State’s) program, and I was all on board. I believed in the vision she had for the team and for me as a player, and I wanted to be a part of something special.


Q: You have six siblings …

KAPINUS: Actually I have 10 siblings.


Q: You have 10 siblings! OK, the same question applies. What was that like, growing up with 10 siblings, and how have they made you who are?

KAPINUS: It was definitely never a dull moment growing up with 10 siblings (five older, five younger). I would say I was very close to my brothers; I have two brothers, and they are the ones who made me very tough. A lot of play fights, a lot of noise complaints in our apartment – we were on the top floor. They were a big part of who I am, not just in terms of personality, but in basketball, I’m very physical on the court. I think we learned a lot about competing at a young age, whether that be first to the fridge for the last Capri Sun or the last snack … everything we did was a competition. I think that’s where I got my competitive instincts from.


Q: You were an all-Big Ten Defensive Team pick last season. What is your approach and your mindset on the defensive end?

KAPINUS: I would say I just try my hardest to make the offensive player I’m guarding, which is usually the best player on the other team, as uncomfortable as possible. Just try to get them to take hard shots. I like to be like a gnat, that annoying little gnat that keeps buzzing around your ear. I’m a very physical player and I hustle very hard.


Q: What is your favorite position to guard, and the toughest position to guard?

KAPINUS: I would say my favorite position to guard would be probably a 2-3 guard, wing player. I can get out in passing lanes and shoot the gap for steals. I can help off on point guards, dig in, roam more when I’m off the ball. I’d say the hardest position to guard would be a very big, tall post player. I guess just because of their size. I’m only 5-10, so if I get stuck on someone that’s 6-4, 6-5, I rely more on how high I can jump.


Q: What players did you admire when you were younger or even today?

KAPINUS: I think (Las Vegas Aces forward) A’ja Wilson is so tough. She’s very physical. She’s a great leader on her team. All throughout the (WNBA) finals, I was just watching her and how she led her team and how calm she was. When they needed a bucket, she was there to get it. When they needed a stop on the defensive end, she was also there. I just think she’s very versatile.


Q: What were some of the highlights from your experience with the (USA 3x3) Nations League team this summer?

KAPINUS: A lot of IQ things. Learning how to score without the ball in my hands. Obviously, I have people I’m playing with like (LSU guard) Hailey Van Lith and people that are used to having the ball in their hand most of the time, so just finding out how I can help the team without the ball in my hands, whether that’s cutting to the basket, setting great screens, getting a steal and taking it back to the basket. Ways that I can affect the game without having to get a lot of touches—defense, or assists or however I can help.


Q: What does the tattoo on your right leg say and what is the significance of it?

KAPINUS: It says, “No matter how hard things get, the true test is how we choose to respond to the pain we suffer.” And I got that tattooed right after I tore my right ACL (going into my junior year of high school). It was a reminder if I was having a bad day and would ever drop my head, I would see that tattoo, and I knew that you can’t control what happens to you in life, but you can control how you respond to those things. We have this thing in practice: Event plus reaction equals outcome. So the event, I tore my ACL, I can’t control that. But my reaction is 50% of the equation, so I can control half of that.


Q: Any pregame rituals or superstitions?

KAPINUS: Oh, yeah. I was very bad in high school but I’m better in college; I don’t have as many. But I brush my teeth before we play every game. I always keep gum in my right sock. I always have this jar of brown Vaseline. It’s either in my sports bra or my sock or if my coach sees that it’s in one of those two places, she’ll take it from me. If there’s ever an injury or I think of an old injury or see someone else jam their finger, I’ll knock on the floor three times. If I step on someone’s heel, I’ll ‘X’ their back three times.


Q: What’s your favorite class at Penn State?

KAPINUS: Of all time or right now?


Q: All-time.

KAPINUS: I would say theater was a fun one. I wish I would have been able to take it without COVID, because you got to act and dance in class. But it was fun online, for sure.


Q: What’s your favorite song at the moment?

KAPINUS: I don’t know. I listen to so many different types of music.


Q: Favorite artist at the moment, then.

KAPINUS: I’ll go with Drake, right now.


Q: If you had to call one teammate to bail you out of trouble, who would it be and why?

KAPINUS: Probably (junior guard) Alli Campbell. I don’t lie a lot, but I feel if I’m ever in a situation where I need her to have my back and she might not know what’s going on, she’s always there and she can pick up on things really well. She’s always there when I need her.


Q: If they made a movie about Penn State women’s basketball, who would play you?

KAPINUS: Honestly, I would say my little sisters. They’re so good at imitating me.