From Walk-On To Team Captain
Time on the court was not a guarantee for Archer Olson when she first joined Cal women's basketball as a recruited walk-on for her freshman season in 2017. However, connections with the staff and players, and the academic opportunities that UC Berkeley afforded her were too much to pass up.
"Being a walk-on was a conscious decision that I had to make," Olson said. "Coming out of high school, we were all the best players on our teams. It was a choice between 'do I want to go to a bigger program like Cal and not play as much? Or do I want to go to a smaller program with not as much success and get the chance to play?' I really felt that the people and the program matched me, and my academic interests were so well-covered here. The staff and players were people that I wanted to be around and support regardless of what I was able to achieve on the court."
A native of Palo Alto, California, academics were always at the forefront of Olson's priorities. In high school, she nearly aced her ACT exam with a 35 out of a possible 36, including perfect scores in math, science and reading. At Cal, her academic excellence continued as she earned multiple Golden Bear Awards for the highest cumulative grade-point average (GPA) on the team and found herself on several Pac-12 Academic Honor Rolls. Her senior season was no different as she earned both the Golden Bear Award and the Neufeld Scholar-Athlete Award, which is given to the graduating male and female student-athlete with the highest cumulative GPA within all of athletics.
While focusing on her studies, Olson played a critical supporting role on the basketball team, albeit mostly from the bench. Heading into her senior year, she had played in 24 games in the three seasons prior with a combined 49 minutes (2:09 per game) of playing time. Nonetheless, her contributions and leadership off the court had such an impact that she was named team captain ahead of the 2020-21 season, an honor which was voted on by both the team's players and staff.
"It meant a lot to me to get the honor of being named captain," Olson said. "It was really cool to have my teammates vote on that and to be able to support all of our underclassmen and lead them, especially in such a volatile time. When I was a freshman, I learned so much from my seniors Mikayla Cowling and Penina Davidson. The two of them supported me, pushed me, spent time with me outside of practice and built a great team atmosphere which really set us up for the future. So, having those role models really encouraged me to emulate the great things they did when I was younger."
The support Olson received from Cowling and Davidson encouraged her to support her teammates in the same capacity from the bench for her first three years. However, multiple injuries ahead of the 2020-21 season led to Olson being called upon to contribute a significant number of minutes. Olson saw time in 15 out of the team's 17 games this year, including five starts, while averaging 17.1 minutes per game. She also collected 15 assists, five three-pointers and three steals. All the while, she maintained that same selfless mindset and gained satisfaction in helping her teammates.
"I was very excited about getting to play this year," Olson said. "It was something I always wanted and knew that I might not be able to do when I made the decision to come to Cal. It's a very different experience and it really bonds you to be able to throw a pass to someone like Michelle Onyiah in a game where she had a lot of points, to be able to get her those touches and see her succeed. It felt good to be a part of that, to lead on the court and step in where it was needed. I was really grateful to get a chance to do that."
Now, having graduated as a double major in economics and business administration, Olson has already secured a position at Boston Consulting Group in Dallas, Texas where she will be moving in August. With her career in Berkeley behind her, she hopes to impart a legacy which embraces the spirit of the Cal family.
"My legacy is the people and how those people will continue to build the program," Olson said. "Just getting the chance to interact with all of the freshmen this year, supporting them, encouraging them and helping them grow… getting a chance to set them up to have a great four years is the legacy that I want to leave in the hopes that they will do the same. I am really grateful for my time at Cal and for everyone who helped it become great. I hope that the younger members of my team will want to continue helping those who come after them, making a great four years for everyone in the future."