PREP HOOPS: Bishop Dwenger’s Olivia Sterba has no regrets giving up v-ball for hoops

Bishop Dwenger senior Olivia Sterba.
Can Bishop Dwenger girls' basketball end its sectional title drought? Olivia Sterba, Ellen Ross and company have a solid chance of doing just that beginning Wednesday. (By Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)

Once regarded as one of the top volleyball players in the area during her grade-school years, Olivia Sterba shifted gears full-time to the hoops scene sometime during her sophomore season at Bishop Dwenger.

Truthfully, she never saw it coming.

“Never, never,” Sterba said. “I didn’t even touch a basketball until I was in 5th grade (at Saint Jude Elementary). I never thought I would go this far in basketball, and that I wouldn’t be playing volleyball (through my senior year).”

The athletic Sterba caught the eye of an AAU hoops coach who was putting together a Saints “feeder” team comprised of 5th-graders within the CYO ranks. Consequently, the one-time volleyball phenom suddenly fell in love with another roundball sport on the hardwood of another name.

“For sure (that’s what happened),” she said. “Definitely that Little Saints team was one of the biggest things (that fostered my love of basketball). I met some of the other girls from different schools (on that team); some of them are my best friends now. If it wasn’t for Little Saints, I can’t imagine I would have even played through 8th grade – let alone (four years of high school).

“I had been playing volleyball since I was 7 years old, and I just think it wasn’t for me anymore. I just wanted to focus more on basketball. I loved the girls and I was always so excited to just get into basketball season (each year). It was hard to say goodbye to all of it, but I was definitely ready to be done.”

Sterba’s junior season on the basketball court was done one year ago when she was injured in the Saints’ penultimate game against Leo. She suffered three tears in her right knee against the Lions, mere weeks after denting Dwenger’s lineup and providing a reliable post presence to complement Butler-bound classmate Ellen Ross. Surgery and a lengthy rehab ensued, but missing out on Dwenger’s sectional push was arguably her biggest hurdle.

“I was really disappointed that I wasn’t able to help my team in sectionals (last year), especially scoring-wise,” the 5-foot-8 senior forward said. “We lost to Concordia (47-42) in the sectional championship by, like, a few points, and those are the points I normally would have had. It was hard to sit on the bench and just watch, not being able to do anything.”

This year, she’s healthy and back better than ever; she is second on the team in scoring (14.7 ppg) and rebounding (7.3 rpg) behind Ross while leading the Saints in field goal percentage (46 percent). And while Dwenger (11-8) has had an up-and-down season filled with its share of disappointment and adversity, some believe the Lady Saints could be favored to win the program’s first sectional crown since the 1999 season.

A probable victory in Round 1 vs. Garrett on Wednesday (the Saints roughed up the Railroaders, 73-29, in late November) should pit Dwenger against a talented Angola squad on Friday.; the Lady Hornets (21-3) face Woodlan (8-14) immediately after the Dwenger-Garrett battle.

Should the Saints advance (having home-court advantage will assuredly help) past Angola, they’ll likely face postseason nemesis Concordia (14-7) in the title tilt (assuming the Cadets take care of 11-11 Leo in the semifinals).

Concordia has eliminated the Saints from the postseason five straight seasons, including the last three by narrow margins.

Why have the Lady Cadets had the upper hand in recent memory, including a 52-38 regular-season victory on Dec. 15?

“I don’t know why,” Sterba said. “I think we have trouble finishing a game. We always come out ready to play, and we’re right there, but we just can’t finish for whatever reason. We just fall apart at the end.

“But I think these last couple of games, we’ve learned a lot from some of those losses. I think we’re slowly getting better and we’re ready for these sectional games.”

The Saints played, perhaps, their finest game of the season last Friday night at home against 19-4 South Side. A Ross three-pointer pulled Dwenger within a single possession late, before the Archers salted away the game at the free-throw line in a 60-55 South Side win.

Sterba’s consistency in the post has allowed Ross to roam on the perimeter more this season, giving the Saints a reliable three-point threat (Ross leads the team from beyond the arc, shooting at a 38-percent clip) and forcing opponents to pick their poison when Dwenger puts both players on the same side of the floor.

“Just the fact that Olivia is a threat in the post on the offensive end, and can guard any other post on defense who may be taller and bigger than her, it allows Ellen to play more games facing the basket, which gives us a huge mismatch when it comes to someone having to stop Ellen,” Dwenger coach Cleveland Inge said. “With Olivia on the inside, it’s also padded Ellen’s stats when it comes to Ellen’s assist numbers.”

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