February 25, 2024 

A 6’2 shooter? How Olivia Pollerd became Santa Clara’s 3-point sniper

Olivia Pollerd is having one of the best three point shooting seasons in Santa Clara history. She is also 6'2 and leading the team in blocks

When people are asked who the best shooters in women’s college basketball this year are, there are a few names that immediately pop into people’s mind. Caitlin Clark leads the list, but Te-Hina Paopao, Madison Conner and Dyaisha Fair aren’t far behind. However, a name that probably isn’t on many people’s radars is Santa Clara’s Olivia Pollerd.

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Pollerd is tied for seventh in the country in threes made as well sixth in 3-point percentage along with being the fourth-leading scorer in the WCC. What makes her unique is she is doing all of this as a 6’2 forward who is also second in the conference in blocked shots, but Pollerd has been a shooter since the day she started playing basketball.

“I’ve always loved to shoot,” Pollerd told The Next. “The one thing I loved about growing up in that club with those coaches and those girls was that there was no point in my time growing up where I was just put in the post and because I was tall. At some point, I was dribbling the ball down the court like a point guard. I played a lot of my juniors as a wing player, so I have that guard skill set from the way that I’ve grown up and the environment I’ve been in because I’ve never been treated as a forward really like a post. That element has brought in 3-point shooting and I think it’s a combination of I’m blessed to be pretty talented but having good coaches in place teaching me really good form. I’ve had great coaches since I was like 11 or 12 teaching me really good form and just continuing to build on that as I’ve grown up has been a big role in why I am the shooter I am today.”

Pollerd, a native of Melbourne, Australia, grew up surrounded by the game of basketball. Both her father and older brother played basketball and she started to dribble a ball at the age of four. She started playing basketball when she was seven and fell in love with the sport from her first game. One of her earliest coaches had her playing in a basketball system where all the players were told to shoot, no matter their size. She always loved to shoot, but this is where Pollerd first started building her shooting prowess because on that team, she was never put in the post. In fact, despite her size, she was almost never played in the post during her time growing up in Australia.

As Pollerd developed her game, she started to get noticed throughout the country of Australia. She was invited to play with the junior national team and eventually played with the both U-17 and 19 Australian national teams. She also signed a development contract with the Melbourne Boomers of the WNBL when she was just 15. This allowed her to learn and practice with professional players and gain the knowledge of what it was like to play professionally. The experience of playing with older, professional players helped Pollerd develop her game and her confidence.

Olivia Pollerd drives against Pacific in Santa Clara’s home victory. (Photo credit: Santa Clara Athletics/Don Jedlovec)

“I think that I was 15 at the time when I got my development player role with the Melbourne Boomers,” Pollerd said. “That was just such a cool experience. I think for me the coolest thing about that was I kind of got a glimpse into what it was like to be a pro athlete. I would love to play in the WNBL when I’m older because I think it’s such an amazing league in Australia and being able to be that young kid who dreams of being in this league and being able to be surrounded by these pros. Not only be surrounded but join in with them and kind of get a glimpse of what it’s like, what their daily schedules look like what the practices look like and travel. That was just such a valuable lesson for me as a young kid and kind of motivated me more to keep working keep pushing because one day I could be in their position.”

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Pollerd’s play in Australia drew her some attention in the US as colleges saw what she was capable of. Early in the process, she committed to play at Duke, but after Joanne P. McCallie was fired by the Blue Devils, Pollerd decided to change her commitment. This time she committed to Washington but yet again, the head coach she commited to was fired. However, it was too late in the process for Pollerd to change her mind as well as during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, so she decided to stick with the Huskies to start her college career.

Pollerd didn’t see a lot of time during her freshman season at Washington as the new coaching staff tried to play her as a traditional post player, something that didn’t fit her strengths. This led to Pollerd’s decision to transfer. Her parents came over to the states as she went on two visits to two WCC rivals, Santa Clara and Saint Mary’s. Unfortunately, on her first day at Santa Clara, Pollerd tested positive for Covid. Despite that, she was blown away with the coaching staff and how much they wanted her because they knew how special she could be.

“Once we got wind she was in the portal, we knew that we needed to make her a priority,” Santa Clara head coach Bill Carr told The Next. “She didn’t get a whole lot of time at Washington. But I was very, very intrigued, ironically, by the way she passes. That’s what really attracted me to Liv was her feel for the game and how she passes the ball. We knew she could shoot the ball, right? And the beauty with what she’s doing now, Liv is becoming a really good basketball player. And she’s making it a point to do a lot of the other things that help her team win rebounding, passing, defending. Ironically, when you do all that stuff, the shooting becomes better.”

Olivia Pollerd shots a three against WCC foe Pepperdine. (Photo credit: Santa Clara Athletics/Don Jedlovec)

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After just playing five games her freshman season at Washington, Pollerd’s first year at Santa Clara was almost like another freshman year for her. She had to learn things all over again, a new system, new teammates, and new coaches. Despite the challenges, Pollerd was able to find a rhythm, even starting the first 11 games of the season and knocking down five threes in a 13-point loss to then-No. 2 Stanford. She scored a season high 20 points to go along with four blocks in a road game at Pacific, scratching the surface of the talent she had.

After finding her footing last year, Pollerd worked really hard in the offseason to take that next step forward. She felt a lot of confidence from the coaching staff after how last season ended. Then, during the offseason, the Broncos went on an overseas trip to Greece and Pollerd continued to build her confidence. It has also helped that there are two other Aussies, both of whom are from her same hometown on Santa Clara’s roster this season. All of this has led to an explosive season for Pollerd.

“I’m not surprised by anything because she works at it,” Carr said. “She’s in the gym shooting all the time, before and after practice and she does it in practice. So yeah, I mean, the number I would probably say, I think anybody would be surprised by it, but the fact that she’s making shots is a product of her work…last year, she was dropped in here and new system, playing more, probably askedn to do more. It was a learning experience and, and then this year, she came back, you know, much more confident. We got to go to Greece, so we practiced quite a bit in the summer, played some games over there in Greece and her confidence level went up. So, I think that all plays a factor.”

Pollerd got off to a slow start this year, but in the fifth game of the season she exploded, scoring 20 points in Santa Clara’s 39-point win at Oregon. Since then, she’s had six 20-plus-point games, including a career-high 25 at Pepperdine. Pollerd has knocked down at least one three in every game but two and hit multiple triples in 21 games this year. In her 25-point game at Pepperdine, Pollerd shot 7-for-8 from beyond the arc. Those seven made threes have her tied for third for most threes made in a single game in Santa Clara history.

Olivia Pollerd dribbles the ball in Santa Clara’s 92-36 victory against Pepperdine. (Photo credit: Santa Clara Athletics/Don Jedlovec)

Pollerd has currently knocked down 82 threes, good for fifth-most in a single season in Bronco history. She will probably have at least four more games to try to capture the all-time record, which is 99 by Alyssa Shoji back in 2012. Her 45.1% from beyond the arc currently sits tied for fifth all-time in Bronco history for 3-point percentage in a single season in school history. Pollerd is doing all this while helping the Broncos to 22 wins so far, which currently sits as the third most wins in school history in a single season and the most since 2015-16, when JR Payne was the Bronco head coach. To say Pollerd’s improvement has had a direct impact on the Broncos success is an understatement.

“I think she’s a big part of it,” Carr said of Pollerds effect on the team’s success. “I go back to that experience comment I made. She got great experience last year, Tess [Heal] got great experience. Lara, Mariya, we just got a lot of good experience last year that’s carrying over to this year but Liv’s been a big part of our success.. you know, people are switching quite a bit [on her] and she’s rolling down in the post. There’s been a number of times throughout this conference season for sure that she’s gotten down into the post and made teams pay for switching on her. Now they have to come out and maybe not switch and things are more open. I think that goes back to my comment about her becoming a really well rounded basketball player.”

As Pollerd had shown her 3-point prowess, teams have started guarding her differently, but with her size, she is difficult to guard. At her 6’2 height, most teams put a forward on her who are generally used to play down in the paint, but Pollerd almost exclusively plays on the perimeter. She also has a shooting form that brings the ball over her head, between that and her size, it makes it easier for Pollerd to see the basket and get her shot off. Now, as teams are switching more against her, she is starting to post up more, something she has learned to do more of as the season has progressed.

However, it isn’t just her size and shooting form that has allowed Pollerd to become an outstanding 3-point shooter this year. She works at it constantly and has been infused with a ton of confidence from her teammates and coaching staff. Pollerd said she makes 200 to 300 shots on a weekday after practice and 400 to 600 on weekends. She says there are somedays she can’t get shots up due to her class schedule but when she has the time, she makes sure to get her shots in.

Olivia Pollerd knocks down one of two triples on the night against Pacific in a Broncos home victory. (Photo credit: Santa Clara Athletics/Don Jedlovec)

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On top of that, Pollerd’s teammates have shown a great belief in her since the beginning of the season. When you watch her play, she hits a lot of shots with players hands in her face or closing out hard on her and she still hits its. So much of it is because she feels great confidence from her teammates and coaches. Carr says he never has the “oh no, oh yes” moments with Pollerd because he has absolute confidence in her. That confidence showed last on Feb. 17, when Pollerd knocked down a fairly contested triple to stymie a Portland comeback and help the Broncos move into second place in the WCC.

“I think developing that confidence has been something that I’ve really been focusing on in the past few years,” said Pollerd. “I think the mental aspect of sport is so important and it’s something that I’ve definitely worked on with time and with more experience and throughout different teams. For me, I think it’s a healthy balance of being confident in myself, in terms of I know I’ve done the work, I’ll always get a lot of shots, get a lot of reps, so I have the confidence that I’ve taken these shots, I’ve made these shots. Confidence in the work, as well as get confidence from my coaches and my teammates because they want me to shoot those shots because they trust me. I think this team is amazing in giving me confidence, like my teammates, anytime I shoot a shot whether it goes in or not, they’ll always come up and say great shot.”

It’s this confidence that has allowed Pollerd to make such a huge leap in her second season. Pollerd says finding her way to Santa Clara has been one of the greatest things that has happened to her. While the team’s had a lot of success, Pollerd knows they still have so much more they can accomplish. However, the confidence she has gained from her teammates and coaches will last in her forever.

“I think honestly we are such a talented group of girls and amazing coaching staff,” Pollerd said. “I think that the more that we play together, the closer we get, and I think that we just keep motivating each other. We’ve always known that we’re quite talented, that we can be really good, and I think it just is so exciting that each game that comes along, we are proving to everyone else that were really good … I think it’s cool to kind of sit back and realize that we’ve done some pretty amazing things this year. Like as you said, the job’s not kind of done yet. We’ve got some more games to do and we’re gonna try and finish as high as we can.”

Written by Matthew Walter

Matthew Walter covers the Las Vegas Aces, the Pac-12 and the WCC for the Next. He is a former Director of Basketball Operations and Video Coordinator at three different Division I women's basketball programs.

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