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Garnet Valley's Emily Olsen helping Jags in comeback season before heading to Randolph Macon

01/22/2024, 5:30pm EST
By Finn Courtney

One knee injury is usually enough to be a major setback to a basketball career. Two can completely derail an athlete’s path. For Garnet Valley senior Emily Olsen, however, a twice-torn MPFL ligament was merely the start of a winding journey.

It’s a journey that did not end in failure, instead continuing with the fulfillment of her dream — playing college basketball at Randolph Macon.

“I have been dreaming about playing college basketball since I started weaning off of soccer, then I was like college basketball all the way, that’s where I [wanted] to go,” Olsen said. “I wanted to play for a competitive, strong, winning team and to see them see my talent and say ‘she would fit in with us’ is such a great feeling.”

Garnet Valley senior Emily Olsen is back on the court after a second knee injury kept her out almost all of last season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

The road was not easy for Olsen.

Her first knee injury came during her freshman soccer season at Garnet Valley, costing Olsen her entire freshman basketball season after undergoing surgery to repair the torn ligament. 

Olsen gave up soccer and returned successfully to the hardwood her sophomore season as a role player. But, five games into being a starter in her junior season for the Jaguars, she suffered a re-tear of the same ligament.

“We were really counting on her being an inside presence for us,” Garnet Valley coach Joe Woods said. “She’s got a nice outside shot, she’s a strong rebounder for us, inside game and can post up a bit, so we really missed her last season.”

Opting for rehab and physical therapy instead of a second surgery, Olsen focused post-injury on strengthening the muscles around her knee and hip to avoid further injury woes. It worked. She was back in time for AAU this summer to suit up for the Delco Goats, earning the attention of a strong list of college programs.

With 10 ODAC championships and 12 appearances in the NCAA tournament, the Yellowjackets certainly fit the bill of a competitive team. They also fit the style of play Olsen enjoys best in playing mostly man defense and using a fast pace. 

Most importantly, Olsen wanted to find not just a team for the next four years but a family and found just that in Ashland, Va. at Randolph Macon, where she previously attended basketball camps for two years.

“I did an overnight, then a couple days after the overnight, I called Coach [Lindsay Burke] and said this is where I wanted to play,” Olsen said. “She just made me feel so welcomed and like I was a part of the team already, and I wanted to play for someone who made me feel like they wanted me there.” 

“I thought they might take this (second injury) like ‘oh, she’s injury-prone’ or something like that, but (Burke) was very good about it and I got back and it’s been insane,” Olsen added.

Aiming to be an FBI agent after her collegiate career, Randolph Macon also served as the best way to forward her law enforcement ambitions, with its close proximity to the FBI Academy in Quantico (an hour’s drive) and a police department nearby for internships and training. As her coach of the past four seasons, Woods can attest to the type of character they are getting in the 5-foot-10 forward, both on and off the court.

“They’re getting a very hard worker who works hard every day in practice, was elected a captain by her team this year, she’s a leader and excellent student and they’re gonna be very happy that they have her,” Woods said. “She looks to improve every season, looks to improve her game and she’s a great teammate.”

Garnet Valley senior Emily Olsen (10) shoots against Mount St. Joseph on Sunday. She will play at Randolph Macon next season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

In her last fully-healthy season during her sophomore year, Olsen helped Garnet Valley on its surprise ‘underdog’ run to a Central League championship, District 1-6A quarterfinal appearance and state playoff appearance. Despite Olsen's absence, the Jaguars made a second straight run to the state playoffs a season ago.

And for a team already boasting offensive firepower in juniors Haylie Adamski and Kylie Mulholland, Olsen only adds gasoline to the flame and contributes something missed by the Jaguars during her injury-shortened junior season.

“She’s our second or third leading scorer on the team [and when] teams account for Haylie [Adamski] and try to shut her [or Kylie Mulholland down], she’s just an inside presence, another threat to account for which we didn’t have as much last year, so it was easier to shut down two or three of our better players,” Woods said. “She’s just another weapon in our arsenal, gives us that inside game, an offensive and defensive rebounder [and] she’s very valuable and has made quite a difference this season.”

The Jaguars won’t take anyone by surprise this season, entering as one of the favorites in the Central League alongside Conestoga and Haverford. They’re out to an 11-2 start and 7-2 mark in the league with losses to the Pioneers and Fords. They should be a factor in the district playoffs once again as well and push for a third straight appearance in states.

Olsen and co. are soaking in the added expectations.

“It feels great knowing that people aren’t underestimating us anymore,” Olsen said. “The ‘underdog’ thing I really think stuck with us from last season up until this season until they were like ‘Garnet Valley is a team’, we need to watch out for them and it just feels great to finally be recognized as one of the top teams in the league.”

Olsen’s career at Garnet Valley didn’t go to plan, but she’s taken it in stride doing her best to contribute what she can to the Jaguars before her next journey begins.

“A lot of ups and downs obviously but it feels great to finally be back and not have to worry about it so much that I feel like I’m gonna get hurt again,” Olsen said. “It’s just great to play my final season here with my team and everyone and finish with a bang.”

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