All-Area Softball: Z-M's Olson still learning and dominating
No matter what first jumps out at you, the numbers are ridiculous. A batting average that flirted with .500. Twice as many doubles as walks allowed. An ERA that gave most opponents no chance of winning a game. Three losses in 20 starts.
So, pick any stat, look at it, think about it, nod your head that Zumbrota-Mazeppa’s Morgan Olson had a great season in 2014.
Now consider the Republican Eagle All-Area Player of the Year will be a junior in 2015.
That .489 batting average, 12 doubles and three home runs? That’s from a sophomore.
That 1.06 ERA, the 17-3 record, the 82 strikeouts and six walks? The line of a 10th grader.
The immediate deflection of praise to coaches and teammates? Also, somehow, from someone with two years of high school remaining.
“I thought I had a pretty good year, thanks to my coaches and teammates,” Olson said. “They work hard all year to make me the best. The coaches really helped with my defense this year, and they called great games to get me where I am.”
Those coaches — head coach Kevin Nelson and assistants Mike Matuska and Nikki Yusten — led the Cougars to the Section 1AA semifinals. Much of the Z-M roster is dangerous, as it usually is with the perennial power that is Cougar softball. But Olson found another level this year with the help of those coaches.
“My catcher (Tayler Mort) and I work together more, but Nikki helped call pitches this year and it made us more comfortable than in the past,” Olson said. “Tayler called them last year, and she was great. But Nikki caught for (Z-M) in the past and she caught in college (at Wisconsin-Eau Claire) and that helped a lot. I felt more comfortable because she’s had so much more experience than the rest of us.”
Not that Olson is some green rookie. Since the age of 9, Olson has worked with a pitching coach, a workout that happens once a week. Olson also plays competitively with the Minnesota Sting throughout the summer, fall and winter, as well as winter “dome ball” games with teammates.
All of those games have Olson continually climbing a ladder of success.
“It’s all about consistency and hitting spots and corners, that’s what we work on. It becomes natural,” Olson said. “Ever since I started playing club ball, playing all year-round, I’ve made big strides with new pitches and getting stronger. Playing year-round has helped make that stride.”
Those strides are as eye-opening as the stats above. Last year, Olson said she walked about a dozen batters.
Somehow, she cut that in half. Her ERA dropped by more than a run-and-a-half. Her batting average dropped a bit as well, but her hits and runs were nearly identical to 2013, and her power numbers jumped after just one home runs as a freshman.
Much like her pitching, Olson leans on coaches when it comes to staying on the ball in the batter’s box.
“Kevin has really helped me with my confidence and knowing you can always get a hit,” Olson said. “As a sophomore this year, I felt more comfortable at the plate. The experience, and the coaches being confident, especially Kevin always being reassuring, that helps a lot too.”
Perhaps the only thing that didn’t go Olson and Z-M’s way this season was running into longtime nemesis Winona Cotter, and new-on-the-block bully Kasson-Mantorville. Those three teams make Section 1AA one of the toughest in the state, with two teams accustomed to state rankings and section titles being left behind every year.
But Olson relishes the challenge, and she wants only to see the Ramblers and KoMets in the other dugout, not in another section.
“I love competition. I live for it,” Olson said. “It makes us better, and eventually we’ll get there because we work hard. It only makes us better and more successful in the end.”
Olson, who has verbally committed to North Dakota State, sees K-M pitcher Maddie Damon frequently with both members of the Sting, “We’re pretty good friends,” Olson said.
And while Olson will be facing a similar challenge next year when Damon comes back for her final season, the Cougar will do so without teammates Carley Henning, Amber Gehrke, Kaitlen Buck and Ali Frederixon.
“They’ll be big losses,” Olson said. “They were big leaders, but we’ll have some younger girls step up, we’ll have someone step up during dome ball in the winter, so we should be strong next year.”
As Olson transitions into one of the upperclassmen, her role will expand to include being a leader. Posting eye-popping numbers is one way to lead, but it’s what goes into those stats that makes Olson the best player in the area, and the Cougars a constant in all-area teams and a state power.
“Everyone has the same goal,” Olson said. “We want to be successful. We work hard all year, we play in the winter, 13 girls play every winter, and everyone wants to get better. The older girls are a good example for the younger girls, to see how hard they worked to get there. And everyone works hard.”