Leaders of the defense: GVSU volleyball’s Katie Olson and Sydney Benchley provide dominant back-row protection

GVL/Kevin Sielaff - Katie Olson (9) serves the ball. The Lakers fall to the Bulldogs of Ferris State with a final score of 1-3 Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016 in Allendale.

GVL/Kevin Sielaff - Katie Olson (9) serves the ball. The Lakers fall to the Bulldogs of Ferris State with a final score of 1-3 Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016 in Allendale.

Kellen Voss

It’s an old cliché from football: “Offense wins games, but defense wins championships.” 

This saying is certainly not exclusive to football, as it’s also true of volleyball. The impressive play and elite leadership of the Grand Valley State volleyball defense could take this team places, and it all starts with sophomore defensive specialist Sydney Benchley and senior setter Katie Olson directing the traffic in the back row.

Already this season, Benchley leads her team with 316 digs, while Olson is in second with 248. Because of their abilities to return opposing balls, the rest of the Laker offense benefits from it. 

In addition to returning opposing kill attempts, the 5-foot-6-inch Olson serves as the team’s primary setter, accumulating 687 assists this year, fifth overall in the GLIAC.

Benchley and Olson are no rookies to playing the sport of volleyball and leading on defense, though, as they’ve both been competitively playing volleyball since middle school. 

“When I was younger, I had the opportunity to play outside,” Benchley said. “Now, I play defense since I’m a lot shorter, but I’ve liked playing defense from the start.” 

Both Olson and Benchley loved GVSU from the moment they visited, and they knew they could contribute both academically and athletically to the Lakers’ program. 

“I really liked the atmosphere here at Grand Valley, so I ended up landing here,” Olson said. 

“When I was looking at schools that had both a good nursing program and good athletics, GVSU was a good school,” Benchley said. “We came here for a club tournament once, and I really liked the campus, and I decided to come here.”

Benchley and Olson arguably came to the right place as they’ve both performed well for the Lakers in their volleyball tenure. Just this past season, Olson received All-GLIAC honorable mention honors. Benchley, a true freshman last year, ranked 12th in the GLIAC in digs per set (3.61). Both girls ranked in the top 25 in the GLIAC in assists per game, with Olson ranking 13th and Benchley ranking 23rd, respectively.

This team is clearly improving, winning two of their last three matches, and both girls have taken notice.

“We’re connecting on a better level than we were at the beginning of the year,” Olson said. “Hopefully that keeps on going our next few games.” 

“I think we have a lot of potential to go far this postseason,” Benchley said. “We’ve had a lot of good wins throughout the season, and we’ve been building as a team, so I’m excited to see where the rest of the season goes.”

Benchley and Olson have been leading this defense all season, which is finally starting to hit its stride with the women playing in sync. Benchley attributes all their play to the hard work the teammates put in before the games in preparation. 

“It all starts in practice, and we work a lot on communication, trusting your teammates to be where they need to be and where you need to be,” Benchley said. 

Good communication is a key ingredient in the success of any good volleyball team, and Olson’s leadership in the back row has established that. 

“I think that the more I communicate to others, the more it is communicated throughout the whole team,” Olson said. “Being a setter, I know that I’m the main line of communication.”

Both Benchley and Olson agree that the best way to lead a team is to lead by example, and they’ve seen a team chemistry developing in the past couple weeks that could help lead the volleyball squad to many future victories. GVSU has done a solid job at playing well while simultaneously having fun, which is the goal of any good sports team.

“I think our team chemistry is really good right now,” Benchley said. “We have a lot of fun when we’re playing together, and even in practice, we try to make all the drills fun. We really enjoy playing out there and competing.”

If this team continues to develop great chemistry while winning games and getting better every practice, they will be a force to be reckoned with in the GLIAC. 

“I think we have huge potential; it’s just a matter of being able to communicate and perform at a high level at a consistent (pace),” Olson said. “We’re a great team, and we got to keep rolling.”

GVSU looks to get some more wins under their belt before the GLIAC tournament starts Wednesday, Nov. 15. This weekend, they have two matches with Lake Superior State Friday, Oct. 20, and Saginaw Valley State Saturday, Oct. 21. The games are at 7 p.m. and 4 p.m., respectively, and both will be played at the GVSU Fieldhouse.