The transition from high school to post-secondary sports typically involves a learning curve as newly-graduated student-athletes navigate the jump to the higher level of competition.
It is fair to say Olivia Heinen is a quick learner.
“I think all the athletes in our league have the skills but having the right mindset and the commitment to hard work is what separates our good from great athletes,” explained Mike Gilray, Heinen’s head coach with the UFV Cascades women’s volleyball team.
“(And) she has worked extremely hard. I think that’s just part of her mindset and make-up, that she is going to put the time in training and taking care of herself as well.”
Heinen is leading the PacWest Conference with 9.25 assists per set and she has done this despite missing a quarter of the regular season with a strained Achilles.
“Her ability to run the offence is allowing our hitters to be at a really high hitting percentage,” Gilray said, pointing to one set earlier this month in particular when the team had a remarkable 21 kills in a set.
“Your passing has to work well and your hitters have to do their job but it also shows your setter is making good choices and creating good opportunities for your hitters to hit and that is what she does.”
Heinen was a standout during high school both at the club level and with Langley Christian, and Gilray felt she could have easily gone the U Sport level.
But the 18-year-old wanted to stay close to home.
“It is really cool to have your family and friends come out whenever they want,” she said.
This season has taught her just how much it takes to succeed at the next level.
“There are no days off, you always have to give 100 per cent, you have to fight for your spot because there are so many people (pushing) for that spot,” she said.
And as for her solid start to her collegiate career, even Heinen is a little taken aback.
“A little bit surprised but you never know what is going to happen going into it,” she said. “I feel very blessed to be able to contribute like I have.”
Despite missing a quarter of the season, Heinen still earned accolades, landing on the PacWest all-rookie team.
Missing a significant amount of time was something new for Heinen, but she was able to use it as a learning experience.
“That was hard … and it took a lot of perseverance but it was all worth it in the end,” she said.
She used her time wisely and whereas in the past, Heinen had almost exclusively focused on her team’s side of the net, now she is able to watch and understand what her opponents’ are doing on their half of the court.
Gilray has also seen an improvement in his rookie’s on-court communication, which is essential as she quarterbacks the team’s attack.
“Listening to how well she communicates with each and every one of her teammates on the floor before every serve has shown just how much (Olivia) has grown as an athlete,” he said.
Up next for Heinen and the Cascades is the PacWest provincial championships, which UFV is hosting Feb. 22 to 24 at the Envision Athletic Centre.