Bishop Canevin grad Olkosky leaving indelible mark on West Liberty women’s basketball
When Kyle Cooper was hired as an assistant coach for the West Liberty women’s basketball team, then-head coach Lynn Ullom said he had free rein to recruit. The Hilltoppers had no commitments at the time, so Cooper was handed a blank canvas.
Cooper had his eye on a particular player while in his previous position as an assistant at Wheeling Jesuit. Now, luring her to West Liberty became a priority.
“I said, ‘I think we have to find a way to get Johnie Olkosky in a West Liberty uniform,’ ” said Cooper, in his second season as head coach at WLU.
Cooper got his wish, and his instincts about the Bishop Canevin graduate turned out to be spot-on.
Olkosky, a fifth-year senior, recently celebrated her 100th game. It also happened to be her 100th start. As of Dec. 10, she was up to 103 games, 103 starts.
In short, Olkosky has started every game of her collegiate career.
“When I got here … I was playing with great players,” she said. “Coming into my redshirt freshman year … I didn’t find out until the night before our first game that I was starting. From there, I knew I had to work every single day. I appreciate Coach Ullom and Coach Cooper for trusting me even through the slumps.”
Looking at her stats, nothing jumps off the page. She never has averaged more than 8.7 points. She doesn’t average double-digit rebounds. Her 3-point percentage isn’t off the charts.
This season, she is averaging a modest 3.4 points and 4.6 rebounds. But ask anyone around the program, and they will tell you Olkosky’s value can’t be measured in numbers, nor can it be overstated.
“Johnie, even if she has zeroes across the stat sheet, she does so much,” senior center Marissa Brown said. “As players on the court, we all see it. When she’s on the court, it’s better for us.”
Added Cooper: “The thing that people don’t realize about Johnie … is she is your floor general (who is) not at the point. It’s her IQ. It’s her leadership. It’s her passion, and it’s her ability to see the game.”
A sixth sense for what is happening on the floor is her calling card, and it is evidenced by her other-worldly assist-to-turnover ratio of 9.5 (38 assists, 4 turnovers). That led the nation through Dec. 10 and was twice that of the next-closest qualifier.
In a Dec. 5 game against Shepherd, one play illustrated Olkosky’s savvy.
In the second half, Olkosky was holding the ball outside the 3-point line at the right wing, and she noticed teammate Taylor Johnson’s defender “had no idea where (Johnson) was.” She gave a subtle nod to Johnson, who cut to an open area under the basket for an easy pitch-and-catch layup.
“I think I see things before they happen,” Olkosky said. “I can see from on the bench or on the court, ‘OK, Marissa is going to be open on this one.’ I just think I see the game very well.”
What Olkosky would like to see before her career ends is another trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Hilltoppers were a Sweet 16 team her redshirt freshman season but have made early exits from the Mountain East Conference tournament the past two years.
The conclusion of Olkosky’s career, meanwhile, is something Cooper doesn’t like to think about.
“I can say this very openly and honestly, that it will be a very sad day for me when she is no longer a part of this team,” he said.
To that end, he is trying to persuade her to stick around as a graduate assistant. It might not be a hard sell, as Olkosky said she wants to pursue coaching.
In terms of her soon-to-be-ending playing career, Olkosky is less concerned with stats than she is with wins and the mark she leaves.
“I want to be remembered as someone who made a difference, a difference to the program, made a difference to one of my teammates,” she said. “Just someone who impacted the game here.”
Chuck Curti is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @CCurti_Trib.