Erik Olson: a golf pro in the making

Game Daily: Battle Royale

1. The big question: What do the Huskies need to do to make the NCAA tournament?

Taylor Soper: A sweep of UCLA and USC would mean that they are in, especially with how both teams beat No. 18 Arizona this past weekend. To do that, the Huskies need to focus on: 1. Scoring more than 17 first-half points, 2. Find a way to consistently score in the half-court set, and 3. Have at least one or two momentum-swinging plays that get the ever-so-important Hec Edmundson Pavilion crowd into the game.

Jacob Thorpe: Either beat both L.A. schools and win their first Pac-10 tournament game, or win the Pac-10 tournament.

Josh Liebeskind: Take care of business at home this week. Even a split this week would be permissible if the Huskies win a few games in the Pac-10 tournament. But, hey, I say just take the suspicion out of it and win the Pac-10 tournament.

Kevin Dowd: I think they are in if they sweep this weekend. If they lose one or both games, though, things could get dicey. In a normal year, they would be firmly planted on the bubble, but with such a weak set of at-large candidates combined with an enlarged field, it’s tough to see the Huskies missing the Big Dance altogether.

2. Which player needs to step up the most?

Taylor: Isaiah Thomas. I feel Thomas needs to be the Pondexter of last year and take over games late in the second half. Sure, the UW is asking a lot out of Thomas, especially after losing Abdul Gaddy, but this team lacks a cold-blooded, late-game show stopper, and I see the most potential in Thomas.

Jacob:Justin Holiday. He looked like an NBA player in Maui, but has really dropped off since.

Josh: Honestly, you could choose anybody in the rotation and have a valid argument. I’ll go with Justin Holiday, though. If he can regain that oh-so-sweet and reliable jump shot from earlier in the season and play the defense he has been known for the past couple of seasons, I believe the Huskies will look like the team we all thought they could be.

Kevin: Justin Holiday. After seemingly emerging as the Huskies’ primary scorer on the wing, his production has dipped to averages of 9.4 points and three rebounds a game in the team’s past five games. While the defense is still there, Romar needs a third consistent scorer, the Holiday of the early season who drained mid-range jumpers like they were going out of style.

3. Who has been your favorite senior over the past four years?

Taylor: Holiday. He took it upon himself to improve his offensive game when he came to the UW primarily as a defensive guy. The fact that he can be the team’s best defender and also throw down top-10 quality dunks on SportsCenter says enough.

Jacob:Justin Holiday has grown more in his time at the UW than any player I can think of, other than Will Conroy. When he was signed, some fans thought that it was just an attempt to lure his younger brother to the UW. In his time at Washington, Justin has clearly shown he deserves to be here on his own merit.

Josh: Choices, choices, choices. A Matthew Bryan-Amaning scream after a ferocious dunk is always exciting and Venoy Overton’s extremely annoying defense is fun to watch, but I’m going with Justin Holiday. He’s grown from a skinny freshman who didn’t seem to have a place on the team to a skinny defensive specialist, to now, a skinny all-around player who is a steady veteran presence.

Kevin: Venoy Overton. I love watching him play defense (but not shoot jumpers) as much as I would hate him if he were on any other team. His passion and tenacity have changed as many games as any double-double from MBA or clutch 3-pointers from Holiday.

4. How much do you love Pac-10 officiating?

Taylor: So much that I passed by DeAngelo Casto the other day without touching him and a Pac-10 referee called a foul on me. Then 45 hours later, the referee gave Casto $2 for no apparent reason whatsoever. It was weird.

Jacob:It’s gotten to the point where it’s just laughable. The officials lose control of every game in the first five minutes and spend the rest of the game just wishing it would end. You can’t tell me that if the Pac-10 spent just a little effort scouting, they couldn’t find 50 better refs in West Coast high-school leagues.

Josh: They didn’t get a valentine from me, and I passed those things out like candy.

Kevin: I love it so much that I just got whistled for an and-1 from a hug I gave Bill Kennedy four hours ago.

Reach all reporters at sports@dailyuw.com.

Host UW faces No. 1 Virginia at Nordstrom today

The Nordstrom Center and the Seattle Tennis Club are the stages for 16 of the ITA’s best teams this weekend, as the Washington men’s tennis team hosts the National Team Indoors.

Dropped from the top 25 after two road losses last weekend, the Huskies look at the National Team Indoors as a way to bounce back.

But it won’t be easy. The UW drew No. 1 Virginia in the first match — a 6:30 p.m. meeting tonight.

“I know they’re darn good,” head coach Matt Anger said of Virginia. “They’ve won this tournament the last few years, and they’ve got a ton of guys ranked high in the country.”

Each team in the field is guaranteed to play three matches, so it will be a weekend full of tennis for the UW, with plenty of opportunities to prove that they can hang with the nation’s best.

This weekend also gives the UW a chance to not only play some of the nation’s best schools, but also to showcase the top-notch facility they have. This year marks the fifth time that the UW has hosted the tournament.

“I think we’re proud of the facility,” Anger said. “But it’s also why the tournament keeps coming back — because it is a nice facility. It’s a nice, fair place for people to play.”

It’s only going to help the UW to be able to face such tough opponents this weekend on familiar courts and with a positive atmosphere from the crowd. Nevertheless, Anger still emphasized how the UW played in last week’s losses at Michigan and Vanderbilt, and that as they move forward, the same play that the Huskies have at home should carry over to the road.

“[Being at home] is awesome, obviously,” he said. “So far this year, we’re 6-0 at home and 0-2 on the road. … Home or away, these are good tough matches, and on the away we need to do better than we did last weekend.”

Senior Jeeven Nedunchezhiyan is prepared to take on a Virginia team that has no shortage of ranked players. He’ll likely face off with the No. 2 singles player in the nation, Alex Domijan, In order for the Huskies to bounce back, Nedunchezhiyan views having home court advantage as a key, as well as each player doing what he can on his own court and not worrying about anything else during the matches.

“I’m always happy to play in Seattle against anyone — it doesn’t matter who it is,” he said. “What I can do is take care of my own tennis court and take care of my business, and that’s the best thing you can do for your team.”

Matches will be going on all day from Friday to Sunday, with the championship match on Monday at Nordstrom.

Reach reporter Pete Treperinas at sports@dailyuw.com.

Looking at Erik Olson now, it's hard to believe he started playing golf by accident. A Pac-10 champion by his sophomore year, Olson led the UW to its first Pac-10 crown since 1988. Golf is Olson's life, and he takes it very seriously.

Nonetheless, Olson's entry into the golf world was very much by chance. At the age of 12, he was involved in a car accident and was unable to do much physical activity other than walk. As Olson healed, he grew restless and yearned to play competitive sports again.

Then he discovered golf.

"I decided I wasn't going to sit any longer," Olson said. "Golf was pretty much the only sport I could play."

It was the challenge that initially attracted him to his new sport.

"I hated it at first — I was so bad," he said. "But I was determined, and it pissed me off that I wasn't good at it. I kept going all summer long — my mom would drop me off at the golf course at eight in the morning and pick me up at eight at night. I would shoot like 54 holes a day, and eventually it just clicked. I started to really like it when I focused and did well."

After that summer, Olson quit all his other sports and decided to focus exclusively on golf. He entered his first competition when he was 13, one sponsored by the Washington Golf Association.

"I don't think I even broke 87," Olson said, laughing. "I lost to a guy named Ryan Moore — who's actually on the PGA tour right now. It all went from there. I decided that I wasn't going to let that happen to me again. Being there, facing this kid who'd won everything gave me self-confidence again [and] made me think, 'I can beat him in the future if I work hard enough.' Just being there made me happy."

Olson came home and moved on. He joined his high school team immediately upon starting his freshman year and consistently ranked among the top players. By his senior year, he had won several national tournaments. That year, he made the cut to play in the prestigious Canon Cup, a tournament in which the top 10 high school golfers west of the Mississippi play the top 10 east of it.

"The Canon Cup was amazing," Olson said. "I seriously had the greatest time, and we did really well. I set the record for the most points, beating the competition by 35 points. I think from that moment onwards I realized that golf was my life."

Olson had hit the big time. Recruited by Washington men's golf coach Matt Thurmond by the end of his junior year of high school, he was ready to come to college and play his best — with visions of going pro driving him to always get better.

"Golf really is an addiction," Olson said. "I knew at that point that it was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life."

Olson was simultaneously recruited by USC and San Diego State but said he chose to be a Husky because he deeply admired what Thurmond was doing with the program.

"I have the ultimate respect for Matt Thurmond," he said. "He took our program and made it great. He's also a very personable guy, very easy to talk to. He tells it how it is, and that's refreshing."

Olson arrived on campus in the fall of 2002 ready to go. However, a problem soon arose. A diabetic, he became ill during fall quarter, and had to redshirt the entire season.

Olson said that while this was disappointing, it gave him plenty of time to practice and improve his game.

"It was good because it gave me some time to adjust to college," he said. "I got to work on my game, which I struggled with a lot. That summer, I played in a couple tournaments — the Western Am and the Toyota Doxon in Kent, Wash. I did really well and improved a lot by the time I entered my sophomore year."

Olson's sophomore year turned out very well indeed. He led the UW to a Pac-10 championship, becoming the only player to shoot under par each day, and became the first Husky medalist since O.D. Vincent (the current UCLA coach) in 1988. He then went on to be Washington's No. 2 finisher at the NCAA nationals, shooting a 10-over-290 to place 27th.

His junior year was probably his most steady, he said, as he played solidly for most of the season. The team was leading the NCAA nationals going into the final round, but disappointment soon struck — the team had a bad day, and fell to seventh place.

"That moment of losing was probably the most pain I've ever felt on the golf course," Olson said. "Just being so close to a dream — being able to taste it — and having it vanish before your eyes. I was so crushed. Looking back though, I think it's great that we even had a chance to win a national championship ... Not many teams in this country can say that."

Olson said losing the NCAA's only pushed him to do better. He realized that if he had gotten that close to winning, he truly was capable of doing so.

"I worked damn hard those last two months," Olson said.

Fellow golf team member junior Zach Bixler said that Olson's hard work ethic is a source of admiration for him and the other players.

"He works harder than most people I know," Bixler said. "It's really great to have such a hard worker on the team, because it rubs off on all of us. We sort of feed off the positive energy. I was so happy for him when he won Pac-10's, because I knew how much effort he had put into his game."

Bixler said Olson helped him a lot when he was a freshman, helping him to transition to college and being on the golf team.

"He taught me a lot about adjusting to college, learning to study and about the sport," Bixler said. "I'm very grateful to him for that."

This year was Olson's last, and upon graduation in June, he intends to move to the East Coast, enter the PGA draft and hopefully go pro. Despite the UW team's less-than-stellar performance this season, he said he has no regrets whatsoever.

"It's been a rough year for the team, and for myself, personally and golf-wise," Olson said. "But you learn from it, and you move on, hold your head high and live each day like it's your last.

"I know everyone did everything they could this season. You can practice all you want, but sometimes you just need a little luck. I'm not dwelling on it."

Reach reporter Katie Stapleton-Paff at sports@thedaily.washington.edu.

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