Olivia Mauch attended rodeos with her family when she was little. She loved them, especially the horses.
But there was something else at the rodeo that caught Mauch’s eyes. She wanted her parents to sign her up for mutton-busting at the next rodeo, so they did.
Little did Mauch’s folks know that they were raising a mutton-busting star. Mauch has a trophy and big belt buckle from the River City Roundup to prove it.
But as all mutton-busters eventually learn, you literally grow out of the sport.
“Maybe I’ll go into bull riding or something,” Mauch joked.
For now, Mauch is digging volleyball.
Digging into the record books
The Bennington junior libero made waves in the summer when she committed to Nebraska. She has followed with a record-breaking season for the Badgers.
Mauch is digging balls at an impressive rate. She leads the state with 754 digs (the next closest is 587), averaging 8.5 per set.
The 5-foot-6 junior set the school record for digs in a match with 38 against Elkhorn. Matches of 47 and 50 digs have followed. Mauch’s 1,830 career digs also are a school mark.
“It’s been my goal since I started high school, so I think it’s cool that I got it this year,” Mauch said.
Mauch is approaching a pair of state records. The Class B mark for digs in a season is 771 (Omaha Skutt’s Julia Faltin in 2013), and the all-class record is 790 (Kearney’s Adison Wood in 2018).
Mauch is showing that you don’t need to be an outside hitter with a big arm – or a setter with great touch – to be a game-changer. By covering a large chunk of the Badgers’ side of the court with her defense, Mauch is changing games in a big way.
“Her read of the ball, the game has slowed down enough where she’s able to get that initial read and just go from there,” second-year Bennington coach Lindsay Grant said. “It may not be the right move right off the bat, but she’s able to make up for it with her platform and movement toward the ball.”
It’s Mauch’s early reads on hitters, quickness and high volleyball IQ that have her ranked as the country’s No. 48 overall recruit in the 2024 class. It’s a big reason why Nebraska, which prides itself on Blackshorts defense, wanted Mauch.
STAYING HOME!! I’m extremely excited to announce that I have verbally committed to play volleyball for The University of Nebraska! I want to thank my coaches and teammates @Premier_VB for always challenging me, but most of all my family for always believing in me! #GBR❤️???? pic.twitter.com/YaTNWFd5Ou
— Olivia Mauch (@Liv_Mauch) June 22, 2022
The Huskers invited her to their Dream Team Camp two summers ago. Mauch was thrilled to get an invite. She grew up watching the Huskers. But this was a chance to show herself where she stood against some of the country’s best players.
“It was a really cool experience,” said Mauch, who also got work with the U.S. Under-20 team last summer. “I think I learned that I really enjoy playing at a high level and being challenged by the best coaches and the best players. That’s how you get better.”
Handling the spotlight
If there is added pressure in playing as a Nebraska recruit, Mach doesn’t show it. Her modest approach to things has something to do with that, Grant says.
But make no mistake, more people are paying attention to the future Husker.
“I feel like people are a little more critical of how I play now, but I’ve always been super-critical of myself,” Mauch said. “I don’t think I feel any added pressure than I put on myself.”
Mauch grew up around volleyball. Her cousins played it, and her parents had a hard time keeping her off the sand courts when they played co-ed sand volleyball with their adult friends.
Mauch’s volleyball upbringing began at setter, but defense was her calling.
“My love for defense started when I began to play sports,” she said. “I always gravitated toward a defensive position, and someone told me when I was younger that defense wins championships. That’s always been in the back of my head.
“I like stealing kills away from big hitters. It’s my favorite part.”
Grant sees it daily.
“If she’s not able to get a ball up, she wants it right back at her again and I love that about her,” Grant said. “She’s a competitor.”
She’s also a valuable leader for the Badgers, who are looking for their first state tournament berth since 2017. It’s rare for a sophomore to be named captain, but that’s the title Mauch carried last season, and this season.
“I think (Mauch’s teammates) just trust her,” Grant said. “She leads by example. She’s one of the first ones there setting up the nets, she helps take down the nets, just all the little things that might go unnoticed most of the time.”
Sometimes that means being more vocal. And when things need to lighten up, Mauch delivers (When teammates didn’t believe that Mauch was a mutton-busting champion, she wore her belt buckle to practice one day).
Badgers look for strong finish
As much as Mauch likes to make her teammates laugh, she’d love nothing more than to lead them to a memorable finish this season.
The 26-7 Badgers are ranked No. 3 in the Class B. Their top three hitters are seniors – Lauren Buzbee (344 kills), Evie Howard (196) and Kennedy Gansebom (171). Piloting the offense is junior Madelyn Uhlir, who has nearly 1,000 assists.
Bennington, which hosts Omaha Mercy in Saturday’s district finals round, has responded well after finishing 15-17 last year. Confidence has played a factor, Mauch notes.
There’s also a desire to improve each practice, and it starts with the Badgers’ defensive ace and mutton-busting champ.
“Liv embraces change, she wants to get better, she wants to be able to compete at that high level,” Grant said. “(If) she has a bad four balls of serve-receive, she’s like, ‘Give me another bucket.’
“I mean, the sky’s the limit for her as long as she has that same worth ethic.”