This time a year ago, it was all about forehands and backhands for Linfield junior Abby Olbrich.
Olbrich, a two-time all-Northwest Conference selection in tennis, has compiled a winning resume in just over two seasons with the Linfield women’s tennis team. Last September, Olbrich reached the finals in singles and doubles at the USTA/ITA Women’s Small College Northwest Regional.
Having generated momentum heading into the spring season, Olbrich turned her attention to basketball, joining the Wildcats after being absent from the game for two years.
“I just missed playing basketball and so I decided to give (playing basketball) a shot,” reflects Olbrich, a three-sport star at Skyview High School in Vancouver, Wash. “I went to the open gyms in the spring and I enjoyed playing with all the girls so I decided to give it a try.”
After discussing the opportunity to play both sports with Linfield tennis coach Amy Dames Smith and women’s basketball coach Robin Potera-Haskins, Olbrich jumped at the chance to push her athletic limits.
Throughout the fall and into basketball season, Olbrich has been forced to juggle a schedule that has her attending multiple practices a day.
“In the fall, we had tennis so I just did tennis and didn’t worry about conditioning for basketball,” explains Olbrich. “Then I took a couple of weeks off between tennis and basketball and now have been doing basketball since January, while going to both practices.”
Without a tennis match until the second weekend in February, Obrich has been able to balance her schedule in a way that satisfies the preparation required for basketball. After going to both tennis and basketball practices early in the week, Olbrich shifts her focus to basketball as the week progresses. The junior point guard puts down her racket Friday through Sunday, as the Northwest Conference basketball schedule consumes the weekend.
Despite the 2010-11 season being her first year of collegiate basketball, Olbrich has looked the part of a seasoned veteran.
Having started all 14 games for the ‘Cats, Olbrich comes into this weekend averaging 5.4 points per game, while tallying a team-high 47 assists. Her 47 assists is 21 more than the next closest Linfield player and ranks fifth in the NWC.
While her scoring numbers are modest, her pass-first mentality and creativity with the basketball has spearheaded the conference’s top scoring offense.
“Abby is the biggest difference in our success this year,” notes teammate Chrissy Baumgartner. “She’s quick and athletic, she sees the floor well and she can break a press by herself. She is easy to play with and makes the rest of us look good.”
As the season progresses and the challenge of juggling tennis and basketball increases, Olbrich will be forced to confront the season’s biggest obstacle.
“Having to do both tennis and basketball while managing to find time to rest at the same time is the hardest part,” reflects Olbrich. “The rest is important so that I am healthy for the games, but I also want to practice so that I am prepared for the game. Having to practice twice and still get rest is probably the biggest challenge.”
At no time will Olbrich be stretched more than during a two-week window in February when both basketball games and tennis matches overlap.
“Things can change and nothing is set in stone,” says Olbrich of her schedule. “As of right now, there is one tennis match that I have against University of Portland when we have a basketball game here. That day I am planning to (compete in both sports). The next weekend we have back-to-back days when both teams are in opposite places. I plan on playing basketball one night and tennis the next day.”
The Linfield basketball program is not new to the idea of a player participating in two sports in the same season.
Just a season ago it was Baumgartner attempting to compete in basketball and swimming. Even after deciding to commit her full attention to basketball this season, Baumgartner is convinced Olbrich has the ability to be a two-sport star.
“Abby is a stud in both sports,” says Baumgartner. “Her athleticism and competitiveness alone will keep her at the top. I hope both her coaches and teams can support her in everything she does and realize she is doing the best she can to be in two places at once. I know we will be at all her tennis matches cheering loud and embarrassing her.”
With a demanding schedule, Olbrich has been fortunate to find support from teammates and coaches.
“Everyone has been so supportive,” says Olbrich, who majors in finance. “I told Amy that I was thinking about playing basketball and she was supportive. Both my coaches have been extremely supportive. Coach Haskins understands that tennis is my number one sport and has allowed me to play both.”
As complicated and chaotic as her schedule often is, Olbrich remains poised and focused on the simple things.
“I just try and be competitive and do the best I can,” she says.
It is with this approach that Linfield fans can expect success from Olbrich, whether she is driving the lane or attacking the net.
–Eric Evenson '11
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