Perfection is hard to achieve in sports. Nearly impossible, actually. That’s why it is such a big deal when an athlete is perfect, even for one game.
Pitchers throwing perfect games in baseball, quarterbacks with a perfect passer rating in football and perfect shooting nights in basketball are met with plenty of publicity. Perfection is what puts Rocky Marciano and Floyd Mayweather in a class of their own in boxing, both retiring undefeated.
In a magnificent-but-shortened 16-5 season for University of Connecticut softball, Marybeth Olson was perfect, or just about as perfect as she could have been. The Chanhassen native finished her junior season a flawless 10-0 in her 13 appearances, where she allowed just 13 earned runs in 62.1 innings for an impressive 1.46 ERA.
She also struck out more than double the amount of hits she allowed (84 to 41).
In this era of in-depth stats, pitching wins have become less important, but a 10-0 season is still extremely impressive, especially when you take into account what Olson meant to the team this season as the workhorse of the staff. She appeared in more than 60 percent of the team’s games and accounted for more than 60 percent of the team’s wins.
Upon hearing her final stats, Olson — who doesn’t like talking about herself — tried to focus more on the team’s success that those stats contributed to.
"It’s nice to hear those stats and know that all the hard work and everything that went into the off-season and all the changes that we made with the new coaching staff, it’s nice to see those numbers and know that all that paid off," Olson said. "But at the end of the day, it’s even more rewarding looking back at the record that we had as a team and just knowing that we finally are starting to turn the corner a little bit for this program."
And that is what makes Olson so great. First-year head coach Laura Valentino said that Olson’s selfless nature has made her among the most appreciated players on the team among her peers.
"What we love about Marybeth, and what her teammates love about her, is she always puts the team first," Valentino said. "She’ll put the team on her back, and she never wants any of the credit. She’s definitely a selfless player, and that’s not something you always see in pitchers."
Even in a season where she was on pace to win more than 20 games and be an All-American consideration, Olson still gave most of the credit to her offense.
"We scored a lot more runs and we scored them early in the game, and when we do that it makes my job so much easier," Olson said. "It gives me more confidence too, knowing that if I were to give up a few runs, that the offense would have my back and we’d be able to bounce back from that."
That didn’t happen very often this season. She only let up three or more earned runs in two of her outings this year, and in more than half of her appearances, she didn’t allow any runs, meaning the offense wasn’t handing her wins she didn’t deserve. She earned every win she achieved this season.
Olson, along with freshman Meghan O’Neil, formed a terrific duo that ate up about 84 percent of the team’s total innings this season. Olson was out there multiple times every weekend on the mound giving her team the best chance to win no matter how many innings it took.
"It was a little challenging for me," Olson said. "I’ve never really been in that position, at least here at UConn. But as a pitcher, regardless of how many innings you throw, you typically always want the ball."
Olson said she tried to focus on the mental side of pitching because she felt if she could master that, the physical part would take care of itself. Indeed, it did. Valentino said Olson’s competitive approach really gave her an edge.
"Marybeth is definitely an ultra competitor," Valentino said. "I think that really was one of the reasons why she was so successful this year. She goes out on the mound, and she has that chip on her shoulder like, ‘There’s no way you’re beating me.’ She’s a tough competitor."
Olson didn’t just get it done on the mound this season. She was also a solid hitter. She batted .241 with seven hits, including two doubles and six RBIs. She said she hit a lot in high school and after struggling at the plate her first two years at UConn, it was nice to see some success again.
Unfortunately, Olson and the team’s potential historic season was cut short when spring sports across the country were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It was heartbreaking," Olson said. "It’s tough for everyone, but especially considering the path that we were on. It just all happened so suddenly that we didn’t really have time to react … We understand the severity of the situation that the world is in right now, but that still doesn’t take away the devastation that we all felt initially in that moment."
But Olson said that there’s no reason the Huskies can’t come back next season and put together an equally impressive season next year in the Big East. Olson said she felt the main reason for the team’s success this year was the family culture and atmosphere, and that should be easy to replicate with so many returners.
"I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting, trying to figure out what the difference was between this season and the past few seasons, and I think it’s just the overall camaraderie," Olson said. "Not to say that we lost love for the game the past two years, but it’s almost like we re-discovered a love for the game and a love for each other."
It may be hard for Olson to duplicate the performance of her perfect 10-0 season, but if she can even come close, the Huskies will be in great shape in 2021.
This story first appeared for the Daily Campus, a student-run newspaper at the University of Connecticut. Danny Barletta is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @dbars_12.