Olbrich pulls double duty for Linfield College

Top tennis player also running point for basketball team

By Kurt Zimmer, Columbian Sports Copy Editor and Writer



Intercollegiate sports are exhausting and time-consuming, placing significant demands on student-athletes.

And that’s for those who compete in one sport.

Think of doubling the time commitment and the physical and mental strain.

Now imagine that those sports overlap seasons, potentially for several weeks.

There you have Abby Olbrich’s life these days.

Already the top women’s tennis player at Linfield College, the former three-sport Skyview High School athlete is also the starting point guard on the women’s basketball team.

“I just missed playing basketball, I guess,” Olbrich said. “I went to some of the open gyms in spring of last year, and I liked playing with the girls a lot and had some fun, so I just decided to give it a shot. I told (Linfield tennis coach Amy Dames Smith) that I was thinking about playing basketball, but I didn’t know for sure if I was going to yet. We got a new coach this year for the basketball team (Robin Potera-Haskins), and I talked to her about it and told her that I told (Dames Smith), so she knew that. So I talked to both coaches before I actually decided.”

Both coaches have been “really supportive” and are flexible with her schedule, working together to make sure Olbrich is not overextending herself.

Now that both teams are playing, that is more of a challenge.

Linfield’s basketball team is in a three-way tie for the fourth and final spot in the Northwest Conference tournament going into the final week of the regular season.

Tennis season started Saturday.

Olbrich, who also played soccer in high school while earning 10 varsity letters at Skyview, competed in both sports Saturday.

She played No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles — with former Skyview teammate Sarah Click — for the tennis team in a dual at the University of Portland that began at 9 a.m.. Then, in the evening, she started and played 28 minutes in the basketball team’s 65-57 home win in McMinnville, Ore., over Pacific.

This weekend is more problematic.

The basketball team plays at home Friday against George Fox and Saturday at Pacific Lutheran in Tacoma. The tennis team plays Friday at PLU and at home Saturday against Lewis & Clark.

Olbrich and her coaches knew this weekend’s conflicts were coming on the schedule, of course. Olbrich said the plan was that she would play basketball Friday and tennis Saturday — both at home — but that may change if the basketball team (12-10, 7-7 NWC) is in a must-win game Saturday with a playoff berth on the line.

“It wasn’t set in stone, so I’m going to talk to the coaches about that, because this past weekend, we won both of our basketball games and we have a chance to go to playoffs, so that might change what I’m going to do this weekend,” she said Sunday. “I don’t know for sure yet.”

That decision had not yet been made Wednesday, a Linfield sports information spokeswoman said — which just goes to prove how complicated it is juggling the commitments to two programs.

The greatest challenge of playing both sports is going to both practices, Olbrich said, and she is occasionally granted a day off from practicing either to recuperate.

The basketball team has won its last three games to be in position for the playoffs.

Olbrich’s scheduling conflicts will either end this weekend, or continue as long as the basketball team is playing.

Back to basketball

Olbrich was an All-NWC selection in each of her first two tennis seasons, and reached the finals of the USTA/ITA Women’s Small College Northwest Regionalin fall 2010.

But basketball kept calling.

It took a while to knock off the rust and get back into basketball shape, Olbrich said.

“I played (intramural) basketball last year and that was fun because it was low-key, but it got me thinking about playing basketball again, too,” she said. “I feel like I’m still not back to how I was in high school, but I feel like I’m as good as I can be for not playing for two years. … I had been playing in the summer. It’s not like I was never picking up a basketball for two years.”

A true pass-first point guard, Olbrich is averaging 5.5 points, 2.9 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals a game.

She plays 31.5 minutes a game and has started all 20 games in which she has played, missing two because of a wrist injury from tennis practice.

“That’s kind of how it was for me in high school. I wasn’t a big scorer, but I like the way I play,” Olbrich said of her modest numbers that don’t reflect her direction of the offense. “I like passing the ball instead, so I’d rather do that.”

Olbrich said it is “really cool” to be part of turning around the basketball program, and the team is focused on reaching the playoffs.

The tennis team, meanwhile, is aiming to reclaim the NWC title. Linfield has won eight of the last 10 conference crowns, but neither of the last two.

Olbrich will have two seasons of basketball eligibility remaining, but said she hasn’t thought about if she will play both sports again next season. But she knows that Dames Smith will not be happy if her top player suffers injury on that other court.

“She didn’t say that,” Olbrich said, with a little laugh. “But she was thinking that.”

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