Olivia Rusek is a badass.
This fall, she’s playing professional volleyball in Austria. She can serve at 50 mph when the average player aims to hit at 39. She spent J-Term in a tent. She plays the ukulele and speaks four languages.
But, we’ll get to all that later. First – volleyball.
“Olivia’s a terminator,” Miami head volleyball coach Carolyn Condit said. “She’s one of, if not, the hardest hitter I’ve ever seen. She plays with confidence and you can tell by how she lands after putting a kill down that she’s glad she did it.”
It showed this past season, as the senior outside hitter won Co-Mid-American Conference Player of the Year and led the RedHawks to a MAC Championship and an NCAA Tournament berth.
She is one of the most accomplished Miami volleyball players ever, and is one of just 21 players in the elusive 1,000 career kills club.
With graduation looming, she’s parlayed her success into a contract to play professionally for VC Tirol in Innsbruck, Austria and will continue to live on her favorite place – the court.
“I’m almost borderline emotionless sometimes,” Rusek said. “I’m just very focused on the game. I’ll get very excited when we get a big point or something like that, but usually I’m 100 percent zoned-in — not like a robot, but just very stoic.”
Off the court is a different story.
“The phrase my friends say is, ‘live like Liv’ because I’m very bold and just go out and do crazy things,” Rusek said.
Don’t get the wrong idea – Rusek isn’t reckless.
“Honestly, I’m the type of person who just goes where the wind takes me,” Rusek said.
During this past J-term, Rusek decided to do a work-trade program. She worked on a farm in Hawaii, but didn’t stay in a house. Instead, she slept in a tent for a month and woke up every morning to the loud crowing of roosters.
“It was fun [to sleep in a tent],” Rusek said. “I really love the outdoors. I love nature and spending time outside, and the weather was great. The ground was hard, but I got used to it.”
While in Hawaii, Rusek hiked and surfed frequently and once took a ride with a stranger in a private four-seater airplane.
She wants to live in Hawaii after her career ends.
“I love it there,” Rusek said. “I don’t belong in the Midwest.”
So, she signed to play volleyball in Austria, 4,538 miles from Oxford and the Midwest.
Rusek’s always been interested in Europe. Although she was born and raised in Morton Grove, Illinois, her parents are Polish immigrants and she still has family in Poland. She grew up speaking Polish at home, and learned the language before learning English. Her accent still slips out when she’s nervous.
Eventually, Rusek wants to play in Poland. She dreams of playing for the Polish National Team, but knew she didn’t want to play in Poland right away.
“I know what the Polish culture is like,” Rusek said. “I pretty much grew up in a Polish culture, even though I lived in America. So I kind of wanted to branch out and experience a different culture.”
While overseas, Rusek plans to learn German — the primary language of Austria — even though she already speaks English, Polish, French and a little bit of Spanish.
The opportunity to play overseas is simply the result of Rusek being herself and dominating on the court.
Two summers ago, Rusek and the RedHawks traveled to Europe and played games across the continent. The only loss the team suffered was, ironically, in Poland to the well-known team, Wieliczka Solna in the Orlen Liga — Poland’s top league.
Even in defeat, Rusek’s play impressed her opposition.
Rusek also impressed her opposition when she went up to one of the Wieliczka Solna’s players after the game and surprised her by speaking fluent Polish. The player, Paulina Stojek, offered to friend Rusek on Facebook and tell her agent about the young Miami star.
Rusek didn’t think much of the encounter until last December, when she got a Facebook message from Dariusz Grzyb. Grzyb wrote in Polish that he was Stojek’s agent and remembered hearing of her two years prior.
After confirming he was legitimate, Rusek signed with Grzyb and waited while he looked for professional opportunities.
Rusek received offers from teams in Finland, France, Germany, Poland and Slovenia, but in March, she decided to sign with Austria’s VC Tirol.
Her sense of adventure and go-with-the-flow attitude put her in this position. Although, it helps that she’s 5’11” and can hit the cover off the ball.
Now, it’s on to her next adventure in Innsbruck. She’s uncharacteristically nervous, but more excited. She’s ready to play volleyball as long as possible, but, when her career does end, Olivia Rusek will go wherever the wind takes her.