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Olivia Stefanik is leading the North Haven girls’ basketball team as both a senior captain and a point guard in the 2021 winter season. (Photo courtesy of Olivia Stefanik )
Olivia Stefanik has spent most of her life on the basketball court. As she finishes her high school career, Olivia is enjoying her final season as a varsity starter and a senior captain for the North Haven girls’ basketball team.
Olivia started shooting hoops in the North Haven rec league when she was in 1st grade. A few years later, she began competing for the town’s travel team and continued doing so until she joined the North Haven middle school squad as an 8th-grader.
Olivia’s father Scott first signed her up to play basketball. Olivia learned a lot about the sport from her dad as he coached the teams for which she played.
“He coached all of my travel teams and some of my rec teams. It’s what really got me into the sport,” Olivia says of her father. “On some of the car rides home, I would kind of dread him giving me lessons after the game, but that’s what really helped me become a better player. I recognized what I’m doing wrong. It was those after-the-game car conversations that really helped me out a lot.”
Olivia joined the girls’ basketball team at North Haven High School as a freshman. She spent most of her freshman year at the JV level and quickly realized that the speed of the game was much faster than in middle school. Still, Olivia’s experience as a freshman proved quite valuable as she realized how much basketball means to her.
“It was so much more fast-paced than middle school. It kind of surprised me. It was hard to get used to,” says Olivia. “By sophomore year, since I already saw what it was like freshman year, everything kind of clicked. I had a year of experience under my belt. I knew what to train for during the offseason. I knew what to expect.”
Olivia started seeing varsity time off the bench in her sophomore season. She felt that she performed well under pressure and did everything she could to earn a more significant role going forward. Olivia was constantly hustling and focusing on the little things to prove that she belonged on the varsity court.
Olivia continued coming off the bench as a junior. However, when point guard Zoi Burns suffered a season-ending injury, Olivia was suddenly a member of North Haven’s starting lineup. It wasn’t the way that Olivia wanted to get her starting spot, but she stepped right in to the point guard position and gained valuable experience for her senior year.
“At first, I’d be scared of the ball. I never wanted to bring it up,” says Olivia. “I really had to learn how to handle the ball and be more confident with it. That experience really helped me along the way and got me to where I am now.”
While she’s starting now, Olivia never had any problem with being a bench player for North Haven. Head Coach Tom Blake says that Olivia’s willingness to fill any role the team needs, coupled with her excellent work ethic, set an outstanding example for the team’s underclass athletes.
“Olivia works incredibly hard. When the shot goes up, she crashes the boards. She goes and gets it. There’s bigger kids out there, but it doesn’t matter. She leads by example. If we run a sprint, there’s a real good chance she’s going to finish first,” says Blake. “You don’t have to start to be good. As long as you’re helping the team, you’re a positive force. They all saw that.”
Olivia is averaging seven points and five rebounds per game through the first two weeks of her senior season. In addition to playing the point, Olivia is also leading North Haven as a senior captain with Carly Fresher and Sarah Puzone. Olivia felt honored to be named a captain and loves motivating her teammates in tandem with Fresher and Puzone.
“I was very glad I got the role of captain. I felt like I was the right person to get the team going, to push them, and to motivate them, especially since it’s a short season,” Olivia says. “I’m a good person to get the team motivated, along with the other two captains. We have a really good dynamic. It’s been working so far.”
Olivia plans on pursuing a career in physical therapy when she goes to college, but is not planning to continue with basketball. Although her time in the sport may be ending, Olivia will always appreciate how she’s learned important lessons and made lifelong friends while playing basketball in North Haven.
“Playing this sport, I’ve met some of my best friends. It taught me a lot of life lessons, too,” says Olivia. “I learned how to work as a team and how to collectively work towards a goal. I learned to just work hard overall.”