NISKAYUNA — Olivia Olsen’s senior year of high school basketball almost didn’t happen.
And when it finally did start, it almost seemed like it did so without her.
Saddled with three fouls in the first half that kept her on her designated chair way back in the corner of the gym and well away from the court, Olsen got her game together in the second half and dominated with 28 points as Niskayuna rolled past Columbia 74-26 on Friday night.
The game was well in hand for the Silver Warriors at halftime, anyway, on the strength of a 29-11 lead, then the Providence-bound center removed all doubt by scoring 16 points in the first 5:20 of the third quarter as Niskayuna went up 46-14.
Because of COVID-19 regulations, the teams played in facemasks in front of no fans, although Olsen did get some personal support from a familiar source — her father James.
“My dad was doing the scorebook at half, so he called me over and he was like, ‘You have to work, you have to get stronger and not let them get in your head,'” Olsen said with a chuckle. “Because I kept fouling in the beginning. So that kind of clicked with me, and it all came together.”
Olsen had just four points at halftime, although she did make her presence felt on defense with three blocks.
While she was sitting for most of the second quarter, her teammates rattled off a 9-0 run in the final 2:32 of the half, including 3-pointers from Ryleigh Endres and Hawa Equiza Gasco, to go up 29-11.
Olsen lit it up to start the third quarter, scoring 10 straight points with two field goals inside, a putback in transition, a layup in transition on an assist from Endres and two free throws.
She added two 3-point plays off a post move and a tough putback to give Niskayuna a 46-14 lead with 2:40 left in the third.
“Everything has been happening so fast, we haven’t had a lot of practices and you jump into games and everybody’s nervous,” Niskayuna head coach Sarah Neely said. “Nobody really knew what to expect with the new rules and regulations. I think a lot of them had nerves. Once she settled in, she was her old self again.”
“Yes. Very,” Olsen said, when asked if she was rusty. “I was a little frustrated, but I think I just need to get back in the flow of school ball and working with my teammates now versus my AAU teammates. But we worked well together. It’s the first game together with this team, and it’s a pretty even team, older, younger. A lot of people worked well together.”
“The big girl, she’s a stud, and some of our bigs aren’t eligible yet, so we only dressed eight tonight,” said Jim Obermayer, the long-time boys’ coach at Columbia who coached the girls on Friday because head coach Greg Jette was forced to observe protocols related to the pandemic. “We were a little shorthanded, but the girls did everything we asked.”
Sophie Bissailon scored 13 points for the Blue Devils.
Ryleigh Endres added 10 for Niskayuna, including a breakaway layup to start the game when Olsen slapped it to her off the opening tap.
Both coaches said they were pleased with how the players diligently followed the safety rules regarding facemasks and spacing on the bench.
“I’ve been so amazed at how well the girls, Columbia and Niskayuna, followed the rules, because they want to play,” Neely said. “Overall, I’m happy with all 10 of them who played. Everybody was able to contribute in some way and do something positive, so I’m very happy with the depth of my team right now.”
“Everything’s been kind of thrown together in the last week, and give the kids credit,” Obermayer said. “We didn’t like the result, but it’s good to be in the gym. Definitely a different feel, but it’s great to see the kids get a chance to compete and play in an interscholastic game, especially the older girls after what happened at the end of last season, getting it cut short.”
“It’s amazing,” Olsen said. “I thought I was just going to move on to college. I didn’t even think there would be a school season. But I’m glad there is. Very glad.”
Columbia 4 7 8 7 — 26
Niskayuna 12 17 20 25 — 74
Columbia scoring: Preston 2-0-4, Bissailon 4-2-13, Kelly 1-0-2, Angelo 2-1-7. Niskayuna scoring: Schmidt 2-2-6, Olsen 12-4-28, Reffelt 3-1-7, Endres 4-0-10, Birmingham 3-1-9, Equiza Gasco 1-0-3, O’Meally 2-0-5, Mugits 2-0-4, Boler 2-0-4. Scoring totals: Columbia 9-3-26, Niskayuna 31-8-74.