Parkersburg Catholic’s Olivia Ullman on her long journey

The answer was unanimous among the entire Parkersburg Catholic girls’ basketball team when I asked them to identify the best shooter on the squad.

“It is Olivia,” said Mikayla Alkire.

“Olivia Ullman,” added Jenna Boice.

“Oh, it is Olivia,” chimed in Kamaria Robinson.

No, it wasn’t just me putting the girls on the spot. (For those of you who were wondering.)

I didn’t have to be secretive because Ullman hadn’t arrived at practice yet.

She chuckled when I told her the results, and has heard it most of her life.

“Everybody told me I was such a good shooter even back in the elementary school days,” said Ullman. “But I think I have worked on it so much that when I get an open shot I have always taken it and it just goes in.”

Besides — One look at the statistics backs up the ladies’ proclamations.

Choose any of the numbers you want … There are plenty.

Ullman has connected on a momentum-swinging 3-point shot in 17 of the Crusaderettes’ 20 games this season, and hit multiple buckets from behind the arc in 10 of those contests. She’s led the team in scoring eight times, including six outings of 20 or more points.

Need more?

Even when she doesn’t have the hot hand, Ullman has finished second in scoring six times because she knows where to get her shots. In fact, opposing teams have held her to single-digit offensive outputs just four times during the 2017-18 season.

I have in-game situations too in case you are unconvinced.

During Catholic’s second-closest win of the season, a 68-55 road win over Trinity, no one could connect for a bucket on either team.

Naturally, she came to her team’s aid.

The senior put her team on her back by scoring the Crusaderettes’ first 12 points of the game on the way to a 27-point night.

“Nobody else could buy a bucket, but Olivia just drained them,” said Catholic assistant coach Tom Carr, recalling the matchup. “From then on we were fine.”

“She has really played like a senior this year and has made every shot that needs to be made.”

Confidence can be deadly, which is clear in the amount her teammates and coaches, along with herself have in her.

However, the amount of surety, especially of Ullman in herself, wasn’t always present.

She almost didn’t come out for the team her freshman year.

After playing at Williamstown her fifth-grade year and then transferring and playing at Catholic her sixth- and seventh-grade seasons, she moved between Williamstown and Catholic again her eighth-grade year and missed basketball entirely.

Ullman ‘tried to get back in the groove’ her freshman year, but wasn’t sure she was ready to come back. “I took a few practices off and said I didn’t really want to play so Coach V gave me some time and then I came back and have enjoyed it ever since.

“It wasn’t nerves. I just think I wasn’t sure I was ready to get back into it yet. I remember specifically one play I was so frustrated with and didn’t understand and said to myself ‘Oh my gosh … This is because you haven’t played in a few years.’ I just had to get back into the swing of things.”

She played on the junior varsity team in ninth-grade and needed one taste of live game action to get hooked on the hardwood sport once again.

Things have certainly worked out for the best this season. Ullman is one of three leaders on the newly-minted Little Kanawha Conference champion and undefeated Crusaderette team embedded in Class A state title talk.

A lot of young, influential talent has been key to the Crusaderettes success and have fed off Ullman’s calm and cool demeanor in the huddle and on the floor. “She isn’t the rah, rah, rah kind of person,” said Catholic coach Marty Vierheller. “She lets her game speak for itself and the kids need that too.”

It isn’t just the team she has left a lasting impression on either.

“We have a special place in our heart for her because four years ago we had to twist her arm just to play, which very few people know,” said Vierheller. “She wasn’t all in before her freshman season started and we worked and worked just to convince her to give it a shot and come out. Even once she started, we thought we were going to lose her because it was very tough and very overwhelming for her and the fact she is the player she is now …. I get choked up about it. She has improved as much as any kid I have seen in four years as much as anybody I have coached — I am serious. She had nightmares about us coaching her as we would tell her constantly “We know you can shoot Liv” or “You have to play defense” but she never folded.”

Contact Joe Albright at jalbright@newsandsentinel.com.