Olivia Roark became the 12th player in the Ottumwa softball program’s venerable history to go on to play for a Division I school when she signed a letter of intent to play for Missouri State Wednesday at a press conference at Ottumwa High School.
“Olivia is fast and brings solid defense to the team,” Missouri State head coach Holly Hesse said. “She is a slapper who hits the ball where she wants.”
Roark, a lightning-quick, sure-handed second baseman with a knack for hitting slap singles, said her first visit to MSU’s campus convinced her the college would be a good fit for her.
“It wasn’t too big, it wasn’t too small,” Roark said. “It was the perfect size.”
Also, Roark said the friendliness of the coaching staff further cemented her positive view of the university.
“They [the coaches] seem like they would be very good to work with,” she said.
Roark, a three-sport athlete who was recently named to the CIML Metro All-conference first team in volleyball, is unsure if she will remain in the infield or be moved to the outfield when she suits up for the Bears, but she added that she would be OK either way.
“Outfield would be good for me because I’m quick and I could get to the ball,” Roark said.
She added that she has a strong arm, which will suit her well if she ends up in the outfield.
“I have had infield experience my whole life, so they [the MSU coaching staff] could put me there, too” Roark said. “Wherever they need me to go, I will do my best.”
The Bulldog second baseman will look to sharpen her skills in a few areas during her senior season this summer in preparation for making the transition from high school to college softball.
“I think my throwing needs to improve,” she said.
In addition, Roark added that she would like to improve her quickness, although she’s already extremely quick; and get a little stronger through lifting weights.
If next season’s schedule bares any resemblance to this season’s, Roark will get to test her mettle against some high profile schools next spring. This season the Bears compete against 11 teams that made the NCAA tournament last season. Their schedule includes games against Iowa State, Rutgers, Tulsa, Arkansas, Missouri and Memphis.
MSU, under coach Hesse’s veteran leadership (she won her 600th game in 2012) went 25-26 and 12-14 in the Missouri Valley Conference last season. Two games on the Bears’ schedule this year are against Indiana State, which is where Roark’s former teammate Paige Schreiner decided to continue her softball career. If MSU elects to feature Indian State on its schedule again next spring, it will pit the two former teammates against one another.
“That would be interesting,” Roark said.
Roark received first team all-state recognition her junior year and is a three-time all-state selection. In addition, she is a three-time all conference CIML Metro Conference first team selection. Roark boasts a career average of .427, an on-base percentage of .503, and a slugging percentage of .524. Ottumwa coach Frank Huston said her career numbers show how versatile a hitter she is.
Roark’s offensive ability, however, is matched, and maybe eclipsed, by her stellar fielding ability. An eye-opening statistic illuminates the extent of Roark’s infield skills: In 2011, she made only two errors on 136 chances.
While slap singles — she hits grounders in a way that allows her to use her speed to beat the incoming throw to first base — are Roark’s specialty, she has shown she has the capacity to hit for extra bases when the situation calls for it.
“Outstanding bat control gives Olivia a triple threat offensive game. ...Simply an outstanding defensive second baseman,” Huston said.
Roark’s play helped the Bulldogs advance to the state tournament in 2010 and 2012. While she’s looking forward to her future college career, Roark is still focused on playing a big role in the Bulldogs success this season.
“I’m excited about it and I’m going to do my best,” she said. “I hope we will get to state and do really well.”