January 5, 2020 – By NJP

When you are a dedicated and caring individual like Olivia Szyszkiewicz, you are always looking for ways to help animals. It’s one of her passions along with playing beach volleyball. The former Union Catholic star started her college career at Jacksonville University in Florida this past fall. She would like to be a marine biologist and cares deeply about helping marine life through a wide variety of methods. But she also expects to help the JU Dolphins become an elite beach volleyball program at the D1 level. And she has the abilities to accomplish both.

Olivia has the “care” gene and it just makes her someone special. Whether she is dealing with her studies and her mission at JU, teaching her dog to pepper during her holiday time at home in NJ, or the care and support she gives and gets from her family, it’s pretty obvious to us that Olivia will be making her mark in the world in the future. And honestly, she has already made such a positive difference on a number of lives already.

We prepare tons of articles like this and get to interact with so many players and coaches on a regular basis. We still get surprised every so often by the genuineness and good heart exhibited by some of our interviewees. Olivia falls into this category and we remain inspired after spending some time with her over these past couple of weeks. In a world that has often turned bitter due to so many world circumstances of late, it’s always great to see a shining light come through. It’s motivating to see that caring people still exist, despite how hard they are to find sometimes.

O is a great volleyball player. She knocked the lights out her senior year year at Union Catholic on the hard court. She is even better on the beach and will make us all proud at JU. When she was home for the holidays, she participated in a Women’s AA tournament at Highline Arena on the weekend after New Years Day. She teamed with another NJ standout Syd Eckhardt from Hunterdon Central and of course, won the championship. A sign of what is to come at Jacksonville. We are looking forward to following her success. From 1,000 miles away… now that’s social distancing.

Here is our interview with Olivia…

Tell us a bit about yourself, Olivia?

I attend Jacksonville University in Florida, but I am originally from Rahway, New Jersey. I am graduating in 2024 with a bachelors degree in Marine Science. I am very close with my parents and two older sisters. My dad coached me when I was younger and both of my sisters played in high school. I grew up watching my sisters play in high school and striving to play like them and take my athletics into college as well.  I also have a dog who plays volleyball with me outside!

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Olivia with her new pepper pal Nukka…

How long have you played volleyball and what inspired you to take up volleyball initially?

Stars and Stripes Volleyball Club

I began indoor volleyball when I was in second grade and began beach volleyball in seventh grade. I made the transition to only beach volleyball my sophomore year of high school when Stars and Stripes made the club a year-round program. Initially, my sisters inspired me to play both indoor and beach volleyball. I grew up watching their indoor games from middle school into the competitive atmosphere of high school. I immediately fell in love with the sport and began playing with them. They never took it easy on me and played with me constantly, which only grew my passion and drive to get better.  When my sister played in a beach tournament for fun, I realized how amazing beach volleyball was and began playing each summer afterwards.

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You were absolutely dominant at Union Catholic, especially your senior year where you put up 232 kills, 280 digs, and over 50 aces. What made you choose beach over the hard court for your college athletics?

Playing volleyball at Union Catholic had always been a dream of mine, and while I loved playing indoor there, beach volleyball always had a special place in my heart. It is much more challenging mentally and physically than indoor, and that extra challenge drew me to the sport. On the beach, your skills need to be all-around from serve receive to setting and mentally you have to be strong because it is only you and your partner. You are bound to make mistakes and with little coaching during games your mental game cannot be weak. In addition, I loved the atmosphere of beach volleyball. Everyone in the sport is welcoming and being able to play with many different people from all over the United States is a fantastic experience.

Did you consider other college options before choosing Jacksonville? What was the deciding factor in choosing to be a Dolphin?

I did consider other college options before choosing Jacksonville. After visiting JU, I knew that was where I wanted to go. It had already felt like a home away from home. After meeting the team, I felt like I fit in with them and seeing the marine biology program, I knew that was the environment I wanted to study in. The opportunities JU offered through the beach volleyball program as well as the academics showed me that JU was the right school for me. There was not one deciding factor; it was how the school fit everything I wanted in a college.

Tell us about your transition from going to high school in NJ to starting your freshman year at Jacksonville in Florida.

The transition of going to school in Jacksonville was not the easiest. I am very close with my family so the first week or two I was very homesick. Once classes and practice began picking up, I quickly found a schedule that balanced work and volleyball and I loved everything about it. I was able to ft or call my family often. I enjoyed all of my classes and having extra time in between classes, which was different from high school, I had to learn how to manage my time. I started to get work done in between classes so I could focus at practice or lift later that day. The easiest part of the transition was always being able to enjoy the warm weather in Florida compared to it being cold in NJ!

What are you studying in college or what is your career path?

I am studying marine science with an emphasis in marine biology. I have always loved and been fascinated by marine life and the ocean and want to work with these animals when I am older. Whether that be through conservation efforts, studying their behavior, or working in rehabilitation of injured marine life, this is something I have always been very passionate about.

There are usually only 2-3 players (out of thousands) that are good enough to advance their careers and play beach volleyball in a NCAA school. As a role model, what advice do you have for younger players who aspire to play beach volleyball in college?

Advice I would give younger players who aspire to play beach volleyball in college is to never give up on your dreams to play and always have fun. By never giving up and always giving your best you will become the best version of yourself you can be. However, beach volleyball is also about having a good time. Always remember to have fun when you’re playing. Making mistakes and facing difficulties is part of the sport, so reminding yourself your love for the game and the joy it brings is essential to creating a strong mindset and strong player.

Where do you think you will slot in as a freshman?

As a freshman, I am hoping to upset many top teams and show my presence to other schools as part of the JU beach program. I think I will help my team have a winning season and become a dominant force in the ASUN conference.

Do you have a favorite quote?

I have many favorite quotes and each day I find a new quote to write down and live by that day. There is one quote, however, that has always stuck out to me: “The most important part of a player’s body is above her shoulders.” Mental toughness has always been something I focused on which this quote emphasizes. Being mentally strong is essential in beach volleyball and this quote always reminds me to be confident in myself and work on my mental game as much as my physical game. It shows that you can train physically as much as you want, but the mental game is critical in becoming an elite player.  

Who is your support group?

I enjoy watching previous NCAA championship beach volleyball matches. These matches have always inspired me to work harder and train more efficiently in hopes of one day playing in the championships myself. 

My support group is definitely my family and friends. My immediate family: mom, dad, and two sisters have always supported my goals. My parents have gone to every game and my sisters constantly push me to be the best player I can be. They attended my games, still run drills with me at home, and always helped when I needed a confidence boost. My dad was my very first coach who has consistently been my biggest fan, but also helped me see what I needed to work on. In addition, my grandpa has always been one of my biggest supporters since as long as I can remember. He attended every game of mine in high school, home or away. He has always encouraged me to chase my dreams and gave me confidence in every aspect of my game. He has attended multiple tournaments as well and has always believed in me. Before some of the most critical games or matches, I would always think about my grandpa watching and how happy or proud he was. Having his support at every match and throughout my life helped me perform my best and get to the level of volleyball I am currently playing at.

What are your other hobbies or interests?

I am a huge animal lover and am very passionate about protecting the environment. I love working with animals and have a dog and a cat of my own. Animals and the environment are very vulnerable and are unable to speak for themselves; I would like to be the voice for them now and in the future.

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