Olivia Waldowski of the UCSB women’s volleyball team is anything but an average student athlete.
Not just because she stands at 6’3″ and is the reigning Big West Freshman of the Year, or even that she is a math major. What separates Waldowski from the rest is a uniquely adventurous childhood.
You see, this 22-year-old sophomore from Irvine spent a good amount of her childhood on the road traveling around the county with her Christian musician parents.
As a youngster, Waldowski would steal the spotlight in a duet with her dad, often performing in front of crowds of over a thousand people. Growing up, she recalls practicing the piano six days a week.
“My brother and I would always try to hide or hope he would forget, but my dad never budged and we practiced everyday,” Waldowski said.
In high school, the confidence she gained from the stakes of a microphone, as well as the work ethic instilled by her parents, translated into success on the hardwood. After playing volleyball for just four years, Volleyball Magazine named her the #16 recruit in the nation.
When deciding on a college, Waldowski was taken in by the glamour of a big school and a big-time program, and signed with perennial powerhouse Nebraska.
“I liked the school and the area,” she said. “I just never really found anyone there that I clicked with.”
Similarly, Waldowski did not click with the CornHuskers’ corn-fed brand of big-girl power volleyball. As opposed to USCB’s philosophy of sound defense and a commitment to developing quickness to the ball, Nebraska’s style of play and conditioning programs are centered on power moves and intimidating hitters.
Following her redshirt fall season at Nebraska, Waldowski came out to California as the CornHuskers’ starting middle blocker for a tournament during the spring that her parents could attend. Despite the playing time, Waldowski’s parents could tell that she was not happy on the court. When her mother brought this to her attention, Waldowski began a tough process of soul searching that concluded with the decision that Nebraska was not the right place for her.
UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory could be seen singing gospel hymns and knew immediately that she wanted Waldowski on the team upon hearing news of her desire to transfer to Santa Barbara. After a recruiting trip, which included a trip to Santa Barbara Community Church and a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting, Waldowski was ready to give Santa Barbara a shot.
“I lived in Manzanita, with Erin O’Bryan (of the Women’s Basketball team),” Waldowski said. “Despite being different, we got along great. I liked the scene and I liked my teammates, and I knew pretty much right away that this was a better situation for me.”
Waldowski’s old work ethic and new outlook allowed her to quickly assimilate to the UCSB system. She pushed herself harder than was asked for in practice and often stayed late or came early to get extra repetitions.
“I realized that I was getting another chance and I was not going to waste it,” Waldowski said.
Waldowski was named Big West Freshman of the Year in her debut season at UCSB, but is anything but content after being bounced from the NCAA Tournament in round one.
This season she has furthered her level of commitment by giving up sweets and desserts of any kind for the entire season.
“It is extremely difficult as a chocolate addict,” Waldowski said.
After some tough losses to unranked teams in the Gauchos’ young season, Waldowski is sure the team has what it takes to learn from these games and use the experience to their advantage.
“We were not ready for the playoffs last year,” she said. “This year we know the drill, and after these losses we were given a harsh reminder that nothing is going to be given to us; we have to work for everything.”
With two early losses in the Big West to Pacific and Idaho, the Gauchos have their work cut out for them if they hope to three-peat as Big West Champs.
Waldowski only craves the sweet taste of an NCAA championship, and after that, maybe a little chocolate.