March 27, 2024 

Driven and determined, Lucy Olsen enjoys life as Villanova’s leader

With Maddy Siegrist in the WNBA, Lucy Olsen has helped Villanova keep the winning times going

VILLANOVA, Pa. — If Lucy Olsen drove like she played basketball; the Villanova University junior guard would spend much of her time cruising in the right lane. Or maybe she’d be going a couple of miles over the speed limit. Occasionally, the affable Olsen would switch lanes and live a little dangerously by driving five to ten miles over the speed limit.

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It wouldn’t matter if irritated drivers behind her were blaring horns or flashing high beams at her. They might be demanding that she move faster, but Olsen would move at her own pace, like she does on the court. She’s never in a hurry.

“That’s a compliment, because the past two years, I’ve been very sped up,” said a smiling Olsen postgame, wearing a navy blue hoodie and standing at a tall table in the Finneran Pavilion. She stood surrounded by large portraits of all the Villanova basketball greats after helping the Wildcats beat Virginia, 73-55, in the WBIT’s second round Sunday afternoon.

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“I wanted to do everything fast. In my head, I thought working hard was to do it faster. But then, when I got here, Coach (Denise Dillon) helped me understand that you don’t have to do everything fast. You have to change pace and then get faster when you’re changing pace.

Now I’m finally learning you don’t have to move a thousand miles an hour. You chill for a second and let things happen,” Olsen finished.

The only thing that’s been quick about point-producing Olsen has been the rapid frequency at which she has scored 756 points this season, adding to her program record for points by a junior. Olsen leads the BIG EAST in scoring and ranks third nationally with a 23.6-point-per-game average. She’s also averaging 3.7 assists per game and 1.8 steals per contest.

Her performance has Villanova in the quarterfinals of the WBIT, where it will host rival Saint Joseph’s Thursday at 7 p.m. Saint Joseph’s defeated Villanova, 73-67, on Dec. 5, so the anticipation is heightened. This match amounts to a city championship contest, as it’s being played in March for the right to advance to the semifinals. The winner will play the survivor of the Penn State-Mississippi State game at Butler’s Hinkle Field House on April 1.

Olsen eased into Villanova’s changes

In a season full of impressive accolades, the patient Olsen has inherited the role of Villanova’s leader by remaining true to her roots as a team-first player who dominates the game on her terms. Villanova entered the 2023-24 campaign without all-time leading Maddy Siegrist, who graduated and was drafted third overall by the Dallas Wings. Siegrist finished her astonishing career with 2,896 points.

Olsen hasn’t felt any pressure to slide from the passenger side over into the driver’s seat this year. Lifting weights in the sweat-soaked solitude of the weight room, shooting the ball in the sneaker-squeaking sanctuary of the gym, and completing grueling agility drills in the searing sun on rubber tracks enhanced Olsen’s game and prepared her for being the number one player on opposing scouting reports.

“I learned very quickly that Maddy’s going try to outwork you,” Olsen said. “Well, I’m going try to outwork her. When I showed up freshman year and saw Maddy, the one thing I noticed was that she was in the gym all the time. If I went to shoot, she would have been already there. That put into perspective that you do have to put the work in. But then I saw that it paid off. So, it influenced me to keep on working hard.”

Lucy Olsen always plays with a smile on her face for Villanova, which advanced to the WBIT quarterfinals. (Photo credit: Villanova Athletics)

Olsen, who has scored 30 or more points 10 times this season, was named an Honorable Mention All-American by the Associated Press, All-BIG EAST First Team, as well as the BIG EAST Most Improved Player. She was named BIG EAST Player of the Week three times and USBWA National Player of the Week twice.

Olsen and her Villanova teammates are reminded daily of Siegrist’s greatness. Between the memories they have from last year’s run to the Sweet 16 or the colorful, life-size mural of Seigrist featuring three large action photos her numerous accomplishments lining the locker room, she remains hard to forget.

A three-level scorer, Olsen combines the playground game’s creative flair with the team game’s analytical awareness. She has so much fun playing with her teammates, which is evident in how she celebrates them after a great play.

Olsen improved both on the college court and off of it

Scoring has been one aspect of Olsen’s growth this season.

“She’s become a better leader,” said junior guard Zanai Jones, majoring in criminology and passionate about wrongful convictions and getting people back to freedom. “She leads differently and is never in a rush. I love watching her game. She’s one of my favorite players. I love training with her because we learn so much from each other. We knew coming into the year that we were losing a big piece in Maddy, but the show must go on. Everyone rose to that occasion individually by improving something in their game.”

Olsen and teammate Christina Dalce, the BIG EAST co-Defensive Player of the Year, played USA Basketball. They helped the under-21 team along with Crieghton’s Morgan Maly and Minnesota’s Mara Braun win the 3×3 Nation’s League title in a tournament title played in Mongolia in September.

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That was another experience that helped Olsen grow.

“It’s such a different game,” Olsen said. “It’s smaller spaces and shorter shot clocks, so you have to sharpen your basketball mind, which I think helped me learn the game better with pick and roll, seeing where the defense is, and knowing how to play through contact. They also don’t call a lot of fouls overseas.

“So, it was different because I’m not the strongest person, but learning how to control my body, seeing where I can get open, even with that. After playing in smaller spaces, the game becomes easier when you get to five on five, and you’re mentally prepared for the game to slow down.”

That goes back to Olsen’s development this season. She strikes when necessary. She runs when she needs to. Olsen’s arsenal is fascinating because she uses an assortment of jab steps, step-backs, step-throughs, ball fakes, off-ball movement, and pull-ups to transform into an energetic and unstoppable force, creating hardwood masterpieces with each fluid step.

Growing into a leader on the court

Olsen also understands when she needs to take control of a contest.

With strands of hair fraying at the edges and pointing in various directions from her blonde bun, and her untucked white jersey flapping with each precise movement, Olsen scored 14 of her 30 points in the first quarter to spark Villanova’s win over Virginia.

The journalism major from nearby Collegeville was at her best after Virginia closed to within 39-30 early in the third quarter. Providing a concise resume of her brilliance by grabbing an offensive rebound, scoring on a step-back jumper, and threading two perfect passes to teammates for baskets, Olsen helped the Wildcats increase their advantage back to 15 points.

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“My team has done an excellent job of helping me get open and helping me find my spots,” Olsen said. “It would be hard to score without having great teammates around me. It makes it a lot easier to score points when you have four great players around you. My coaches have helped a lot, but my teammates are all threats, so you can’t play off them too much because they’ll score.”

With Maddy Siegrist in the WNBA, Lucy Olsen has stepped up to
Lucy Olsen is Villanova’s 10th all-time leading scorer in women’s basketball history. (Photo credit: Villanova Athletics)

Olsen moved past Alex Louin and into tenth place on Villanova’s all-time scoring list following her performance against Virginia. With 1,445 career points, she’s poised to become the fourth Villanova women’s basketball player to surpass 2,000 career points, which is impressive considering Olsen entered the season with 689 points. She averaged 12.4 points last season, so in some ways, increasing her scoring by 11 points per game wasn’t unexpected.

Following in Siegrist’s footsteps?

Olsen absorbed and applied Siegrist’s knowledge.

“She helped me a lot,” Olsen said. “She was a great leader who brought me under her wing. And she was super helpful in helping me understand the mental side of the game. She never complicated things, so I learned that you can be simple. Just keep working.”

After beginning the season with six wins in their first 11 contests, the Wildcats have continued to enjoy success. Villanova has won 20 games for the third straight season and the 23rd time in program history.  So, while they fell short of returning to the NCAA tournament, competing as one of the four No. 1 seeds in the WBIT has been a blessing. It’s allowed the Wildcats, who have won each WBIT contest by double-digits, to spend more time with each other.

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“We didn’t know what to expect coming into the season, only that we knew we would still be competitive. I’m super proud of our team because we’ve worked hard and are all best friends.” These remarks harken back to Olsen’s reflections of Siegrist, a teammate whom she feels honored to have played with. “It’s so amazing that I got to play with her. Not many people got to play with Maddy. I was one of them.”

Olsen’s reflections are a testament to how much she values her teammates and cherishes the time they get to play together. “It’s been a super fun year. I just want to keep getting better every day. And I try not to look ahead because you never know what will happen. I do know if I work hard every day, everything will fall into place.”

Written by Rob Knox

Rob Knox is an award-winning professional and a member of the Lincoln (Pa.) Athletics Hall of Fame. In addition to having work published in SLAM magazine, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington Post, and Diverse Issues In Higher Education, Knox enjoyed a distinguished career as an athletics communicator for Lincoln, Kutztown, Coppin State, Towson, and UNC Greensboro. He also worked at ESPN and for the Delaware County Daily Times. Recently, Knox was honored by CSC with the Mary Jo Haverbeck Trailblazer Award and the NCAA with its Champion of Diversity award. Named a HBCU Legend by, Knox is a graduate of Lincoln University and a past president of the College Sports Communicators, formerly CoSIDA.

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