ROCHESTER, Mich. - Last season, former Escanaba basketball standout Olivia Nash made more than a splash as a freshman at Oakland University. She turned in an eye-popping season that earned her Summit League Freshman of the Year honors from collegesportsmadness.com.
Now Nash and the OU Golden Grizzlies are going for the encore. The Grizzlies have a new coach, a new conference and a new outlook and Nash is excited for what lies ahead.
"This offseason it's been a little different. We've had a few ups and downs, but our new coach has a motto for us to get better every practice, every game," she said. "We're looking forward. Some injuries will make us limited, but it will just make us stronger in the end."
It was quite a freshman season for Nash at OU. She led her team with 11.9 points and eight rebounds per game, while leading the Summit League with eight double-doubles. This, despite missing 6 games with a leg injury and balancing being a full-time student with a business major. Nash attributed her success to having great teammates who made her accountable for her role and pushed her to be a better player.
"Coming in, I didn't expect to make the impact that I did," she said. "I had teammates that made me play to my potential and play my role. Being a freshman, I had nothing to lose. I was really surprised but my teammates encouraged me to keep playing hard, and that's what I did."
She said friends and family also contributed to her achievements.
"My dad (Gary Nash) told me to keep working really hard and as long as I do what I'm supposed to be doing, and work hard, I can't go wrong," Olivia said. "I've also gotten huge support from back home. Every time I see a teacher or the athletic director (Dave Wilson) or coaches, they're so proud. It's awesome to know I have that support."
There were certainly big changes going from playing high school ball to the rigors of Division 1 college basketball and at first it was an eye-opening experience for Nash.
"The girls are a lot bigger, that's for sure, and the game is a lot faster. But everything goes back to my teammates. I wouldn't be doing the things I do if not for them pushing me very day, going 100 percent all the time," she said. Nash detailed her first time playing against Big 10 competition and the Michigan State Spartans; the Golden Grizzlies often have a couple games on their schedule against major D-1 competition.
"The seniors were picking us up beforehand, telling us that it was just another game and to play just as good as we have been," said Nash. "The atmosphere was awesome. I had never played in front of that many people. It was a huge opportunity and I kept thinking I was blessed to be here. I was definitely nervous before the game, they're Michigan State, but once the game started it was just another game. I played hard, but they're a lot better."
With fellow U.P. athlete Lexi Gussert of Forest Park now committed to play at MSU, Nash is hopeful that Oakland will play the Spartans again in the future.
"I'm so happy for Lexi. That's huge. I'm not sure if we play them next year, but it's on a two-year contract so that would be really cool to play against someone from the U.P.," she said. "Hopefully we'll play them again and I'll get to guard her."
Nash's leg injury last season was a source of adversity for her. She said sitting out was difficult, but it also lit a fire under her and she came back with a renewed sense of urgency.
"Sitting out was hard. It really humbles you, but you remember why you're here. You want to be there so bad and when the opportunity comes back, you just want to kill it on the court," she said. "(Coming back) was a little struggle. I was hesitant about the injury. I didn't want to re-injure it and have it occur again. After a few games, it was like, what do I have to lose? I just kept playing hard."
Last season marked the final year of Summit League play for Oakland, and the Grizzlies have now moved the high-major Horizon League to play with the likes of Green Bay, Youngstown State, Valparaiso, Detroit and Wright State.
"We're excited to begin a rivalry with UD-Mercy, and I'm excited for Green Bay, we know they're really good and being close to home there, I should get good support," Nash said, also mentioning she was anticipating games against Youngstown State where former Escanaba resident John Barnes is the head coach.
"I'm sure I'll run into coach Barnes. I knew who he was when he was coaching (at UWGB), but I didn't know him too well," said Nash.
Nash mentioned two teammates that really helped her along during her freshman year, both on and off the court - Seniors' Victoria Lipscomb and Bethany Watterworth.
"Victoria was like my big sister last year. We roomed together on the road and she taught me everything - like not letting certain things get into my head and how to get over the hurdles of injury. She was out for injury for a while too," Nash said. "Bethany also recovered from injury and she was so supportive and gave me advice. She plays the same position as me so she understands."
Collegesportsmadness.com has again honored Nash in their preseason awards, naming Nash First Team All-Horizon League. Nash said she is working hard to live up to the honors, but also said she is self-driven to do so.
"It was a huge surprise being named Freshman of the Year last season. I remember the coach texting me and telling me and I had thought the awards were already out, but I went online and saw it and it was really cool," she said. "I wouldn't say there's too much pressure because of the award. We're in a new league now and anything can happen. I worked hard over the summer and I want to live up to that. I'm not going to have people pressure me for it."
Oakland University hosts an exhibition game, Sunday against Windsor before opening the regular season against Indiana on Nov. 9. Other games against Big 10 opponents include Michigan State (Dec. 15) and Minnesota (Dec. 29). The Golden Grizzlies visit UW-Green Bay on March. 6, 2014.