BELLINGHAM — Mollie Olson had the pick of wherever she wanted to go to college. A three-sport standout at Napavine, Olson’s athletic accolades were staggering.
She was a four-year starter in both basketball and volleyball and lettered all four years in track and field. She led Napavine to three state tournaments placing in volleyball, including the highest finish in school history (fourth) in 2016. She was a two-time state champion in track, in the triple jump as a junior and the 100-meter hurdles as a senior.
But basketball was perhaps her best sport. She has always been around a basketball team as her mother, Amanda Olson, began coaching the Toledo girls basketball squad when Mollie was 3 or 4 years old.
By the time she was a senior, her basketball accomplishments were certainly impressive. She led the Tigers to four consecutive state appearances as a four-year starter. She was co-league MVP as a senior while averaging 17.8 points, 7.3 assists and 6.4 rebounds.
She had offers from multiple universities in all three sports and went on six campus visits to schools she was serious about. But it wasn’t until April 2018, on the cusp of her graduation, that she finally decided on her next destination, and which sport to play.
Western Washington University women’s basketball head coach Carmen Dolfo and assistant coach Stacey Turrell ultimately won her over after a campus tour. She committed two days later.
“I realized those were two very strong women that I knew would impact my life greatly,” Olson said. “And once I met the team I realized they fit with me so well, and what great women they were, and I just really wanted to be a part of that.”
The transition to Western wasn’t easy for the high school standout. She felt behind compared to the other girls during that first year at Western, especially the first few weeks. The size and athleticism of competition at the Division II level was much higher than what she faced at Class 2B Napavine. So she stayed behind after practices with Turrell to work on closeouts and footwork to get up to speed.
The extra work allowed Olson to earn playing time as a true freshman as she appeared in all 30 games during the 2018-19 season. The 5-foot-8 point guard came off the bench to average 16.6 minutes and record four double-digit scoring games, including a career-high of 16 points.
After playing three sports at a high level, a year-round affair, for about six years, it’s been a pleasant shift to focus solely on one. Playing only basketball year-round now has paid dividends, especially on the defensive end. It was toward the end of her freshman year that she felt she began catching up.
Olson, now a sophomore, was the primary backup point guard this past winter and spring, appearing in all 31 games and starting five of those. She averaged 4.8 points, 4.1 assists and three rebounds over 21.8 minutes per game, while shooting 41 percent from the field.
“It’s crazy to look back now and see how much of a jump I’ve taken since then,” Olson said.
Western advanced to the NCAA Division II West Regional Basketball Championships in Honolulu, Hawaii in March after earning the No. 7 seed. The 22-9 Vikings were making their 17th regional appearance in the last 22 seasons and were scheduled to play their opening game against Alaska Anchorage on March 13. But on March 12 the team received the news that the tournament and season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was awful,” Olson. “Just to not know that that was your last game. The seniors, I was devastated for them.”
Olson has a good shot at taking over at starting point guard next season after spending the past two as the backup as the current starter is a senior and graduating this quarter.
Academics-wise, Western switched to online-only classes for spring quarter so Olson headed back home to Napavine to finish out the quarter. She’s been working out to stay in shape and finishing up spring quarter online. It’s final’s week right now. She also found a job to keep her busy until on-campus classes resume in fall. She’s working at the Winlock IGA deli.
“We’re famous for our chicken,” Olson said.