Thursday morning was about as perfect of spring Alabama morning as anyone could ask for.
Just two days after a tornado warning, the sun was out and Mollie Olson, a 2018 Napavine grad, was walking around Birmingham with her Western Washington University women’s basketball teammates.
Olson and her Viking teammates had not only weathered the tornado warning, they had also just overcome a storm on the court: besting the nation’s top-ranked team, North Georgia, in the NCAA Division II National Semifinals during a 74-68 win Wednesday night at Bill Harris Arena in the Birmingham Complex.
Now, waking up Thursday morning — and still riding the high from the previous night’s victory — Olson and her teammates grabbed some coffee and bagels and strolled through a garden shop.
“Today is beautiful,” Olson said. “We’re all in a great mood. It’s a really great day… It’s so cool to know we made it to the very end. It’s such a great feeling because we could have been home three days ago.”
It’s been a long playoff road for the Vikings (25-5), who won the regular-season Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) title before falling to Central Washington, 57-46. in the GNAC tournament title game.
That gave them an at-large berth in the NCAA DII National Championships as the No. 3 seed in the West Region.
They haven’t lost since.
The Vikings defeated Alaska Anchorage in the regional quarterfinals and avenged their previous loss to Central in the regional semifinals before punching the program’s third-ever ticket to the Elite Eight with a victory over Cal State East Bay in the West Regional championship.
The No. 5 seed Vikings then bested No. 4 Valdosta State, 58-55, on Monday to reach the Final Four before taking down No. 1 Georgia State on Wednesday to clinch a national title game berth.
It’s been a wild ride for Olson, who was a three-sport star at Napavine — a four-year starter in both basketball and volleyball while lettering all four years in track and field. She was a two-time state champion, once in the triple jump and once in the 100-meter hurdles.
Now, she’s on the brink of becoming a national champion.
Basketball has been her No. 1 —and perhaps best — sport. She led the Tigers to four consecutive state appearances and was co-league MVP her senior year.
She then signed with Western in 2018 and has been there ever since. Olson said it was an easy decision.
“I just loved the staff and the atmosphere,” Olson said. “It’s a group of strong women and they’re great role models. That’s exactly what I was looking for.”
Olson averaged 16.6 minutes per game as a freshman in 2018-19, started five games as a sophomore before having a breakout year as a junior in 2020-21, averaging 11.5 points per game.
Olson has started 14 games this season while battling a knee injury after damaging her patellar tendon in September. She has still managed to average 7.4 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game while playing through pain. In the national semifinal, Olson played 14 minutes and scored two points with two assists.
While Olson has had to take a step back, the Vikings are doing what they’ve done all season — overwhelm teams with their vast depth.
Eleven Vikings logged minutes Wednesday and eight played double-digit minutes. The Vikings had just two players score in double figures — Brooke Walling with 19 points and Emma Duff with 18 — while eight others each scored points as well.
“Every single person contributed,” Olson said. “Everyone scores double figures at some point in the season and all contribute in some way. It’s just so fun. Everyone celebrates each other. I think that’s what has carried us. Everyone wants to win.”
Olson is also aware of all the support back home in Napavine and in Lewis County as well.
“Grateful for all the support,” Olson said. We’ve been through some big ups and downs. It’s incredible.”
Now, Olson and her teammates will spend the rest of Wednesday touring a Civil Rights museum, followed by an ice bath, then practice a bit, watch some film, hangout with their parents during dinner, have a team meeting then head to bed for the night.
Western Washington will face No. 3 Glenville State for the national championship at 5 p.m. Pacific, Friday, March 25, at the Birmingham Complex. No matter what happens, this won’t be the end of the road for Olson.
She is playing this season as a junior for the second-straight season as the NCAA has granted athletes an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So Olson and four of her “senior” teammates plan to come back and make another run next year.