Ollinger's Career Has Been Built From Various Roles
Every season has brought a different role, and Amanda Ollinger is fine with that.
Every role has taught its own lessons, and Ollinger has appreciated the education.
The Iowa senior forward will play in her final regular-season home game on Thursday night, when the Hawkeyes play Minnesota.
Ollinger is part of a senior class, along with guards Kathleen Doyle and Makenzie Meyer, that has put up 95 wins over four seasons.
Doyle is the feisty, emotional player. Meyer has a dry sense of humor and is the voice of reason.
Ollinger is the quiet one, with a career evolution that has impressed coach Lisa Bluder.
Ollinger struggled to find playing time early, battling the balance between the demands of the sport and the demands of her academic career as an engineering major.
“Now, she’s really blossoming,” Bluder said. “And I love to see that. That’s what gives you satisfaction, to see someone who has paid their dues all through their four years, and now they’re reaping the benefits at the best time.
“I think she’s having the time of her life.”
Ollinger isn’t going to show that, of course. She admits she’s not one to gesture to the crowd, not one to be the emotional leader.
“Amanda’s a little more reserved,” Doyle said. “She just kind of, like, does her own thing, sticks to herself. But she’s witty and sarcastic, fun to be around.”
Ollinger is who she is — her four seasons have led her to this moment.
“Everything’s not going to go your way, and that’s OK,” Ollinger said on Wednesday. “It doesn’t make you better or worse than anyone else.
“It was tough, but I’m glad I did it. It made me a stronger person overall.”
Ollinger, who had started just five games in her first three seasons, hasn’t missed a start in 27 games this season for the Hawkeyes. She is the team’s leading rebounder at 8.7 per game, third-best in the Big Ten. She is third in the conference in blocked shots, averaging almost two per game.
Ollinger, a 6-foot-1 forward, has nine double-digit rebounding games, including the game at Iowa State when she scored two points but had 20 rebounds.
“Amanda’s getting every rebound,” Meyer said. “She’s playing amazing defense, blocking shots.”
Ollinger has found her spot after three years of contending for playing time in crowded frontcourts. She played 111 minutes in 21 games as a freshman, 566 minutes as a sophomore, 454 as a junior.
She is averaging 29.5 minutes per game this season.
“I feel like I’ve been waiting for Amanda to make these jumps for a while,” Bluder said. “This year, it was opportunity, more than anything. Before, she was battling for that playing time. This time, it was like, ‘Here it is, take it.’
“And she took it and ran with it.”
Ollinger, who had 1,343 career points and 780 career rebounds at Linn-Mar High School in nearby Marion, struggled with the adjustment to college life.
“Honestly, it was really tough for me,” Ollinger said. “I came in with a really difficult major. The school workload is completely different. And the speed of the game was a challenge for me, more than other players.
“It’s not like high school, when you can do all of your homework in an hour. Just kind of finding a balance — the social balance, the basketball balance, the school balance. A lot of trial and error.”
When Ollinger came down with mononucleosis at the end of her sophomore year, she knew she had to make changes to her life.
“That put everything into perspective for me — how important your health is, how important sleep is,” Ollinger said. “Now I get at least seven hours a night — before, I was sleeping four or five hours a night.”
Bluder can sense that the stress in Ollinger’s life has eased.
“Engineering, that’s a tough degree,” she said. “Now, she already has a job lined up. She’s graduating. Just to have the peace with that, I think her confidence level is at a different level. Not just in basketball, but all around.”
“Sometimes it’s not your time,” Ollinger said. “It can be really applicable to life, and to your career professionally. You know, you’re not always going to get that promotion, you’re not always going to get that job. Your boss isn’t always going to like you.”
It’s something she explains to the younger players on the team.
“Help them through what I’ve been through two or three years ago,” Ollinger said. “It is tough. Anything I can do to help.”
Ollinger has played every position but point guard at Iowa.
“Crossing my fingers for that point-guard position,” she said, laughing.
“And, she won’t,” Bluder joked. “I can guarantee that.”
These final games of the season likely will be Ollinger’s last. Her career in engineering will be beginning.
The roles of the last four seasons have built what is ahead.
“You don’t always like to be the person who doesn’t take their warmup off,” Ollinger said. “Or you don’t like to be the backup for someone else. But that’s what you have to do to win.”