V-Hawks Olson leads nation in kills
SIOUX CITY, Iowa – She is arguably the best volleyball player in the country in the NAIA.
She’s leading the nation in kills. She has the Viterbo University record for kills in a career and in a season. She’s also second on that list. And third.
All that’s left is a national title, and that road begins at 3:15 p.m. today for Alicia Olson and V-Hawks.
“Obviously, she’s one of the best players in the country,” Viterbo coach Ryan DeLong said. “We lean on her a lot. But we definitely have more pieces than just Olson.”
Behind Olson, setter Brianna Brinkman gets the offense started. She’s Viterbo’s all-time leader in assists. She’s also first and second on the list for assists in a season. Libero Jennifer Krentz steadies the defense. All three saw significant time during Viterbo’s run in the NAIA tournament two seasons ago.
The ninth-ranked V-Hawks (35-7) open the NAIA tournament at 3:15 p.m. against No. 16 Madonna (37-7) at the Tyson Center. Wednesday, they play 23rd-ranked Coastal Georgia (35-1) and No. 4 Biola (28-4) on Thursday.
There are 12 pools to open this portion of the tournament. Four teams in each pool. Each team will play each other over the next three days. The top two teams in each pool will then advance to a round of 12, with the top four teams getting a bye.
From there out, it’s a two-day, single-elimination tournament Friday and Saturday to determine who gets the title.
The V-Hawks were here two years ago, behind their 6-foot outside hitter. They made it as far as the quarterfinals before losing to the eventual runners-up.
Viterbo may have snuck up on teams that season. This time around, however, there’s no such luck. Olson is too good, and Viterbo has proven throughout the year it is, too.
“Olson is the one everyone sees and she really does a lot for us, but people are going to be keying on her and they know who we are,” DeLong said. “Alicia has to, obviously, play her game, but everyone has to really step up and play their roles and do their jobs for us to be successful down there.”
To get to this point, DeLong made a decision to put his team through an incredibly tough schedule this season.
“We played over 20 ranked opponents this year, probably the toughest schedule, bar none, to any other program in the country,” DeLong said.
There wasn’t any easing into it, either. Viterbo began the year at the Biola tournament in California against some of the best in the country.
“You evaluate your team every year,” DeLong said. “I thought this team was going to be good. I never know how good, but I thought we’d be good.
“So we (put together) a competitive nonconference schedule starting (in) California and Biola, and it didn’t get any easier.”
The V-Hawks beat Biola 3-2 (25-23,19-25,25-16,14-25,15-7) during a 7-0 start to the season. What that win means now, however?
“It was (one of the first games) of the year, early, so both teams were trying to feel one another out,” DeLong said. “That game, way back in August, doesn’t mean a whole lot except that we’ve seen them before and have competed against them.”
What the win, and the 7-0 start (five of those at the Biola Tournament), did show, was how good this team was going to be.
“If we would have gone 1-5 instead of 6-0, it would have been maybe a little different story,” DeLong said. “But I think we all looked at ourselves and said, ‘Alright, we’re pretty good.’
“We didn’t take that for granted, but we knew we could hang with anyone and that first week set the tone for the rest of the year.”
It was a gamble. Like DeLong said, had they started 1-6, maybe the team loses all its confidence.
Instead, it just grew and the ridiculously tough schedule has paid off. Not only does Viterbo belong and know it belongs, but it has proved to everyone that it’s a national champion contender.