Deep into an evening in which she was asked to take on a new challenge, Olivia Page found herself in a familiar position.
The freshmen defender, who usually plays centrally, had been shifted to the outside during the KU soccer team's recent Big 12 opener against Oklahoma, a tactical shift coach Mark Francis implemented after the Sooners took a 2-0 lead into the half.
But late in the match, with Jayhawks trailing by just one goal, Francis again made a switch, sending Page to the back post for a corner kick. “We made that change recently [to] put her in the back side, because she's so aggressive," he said.
When senior Moira Kelley’s deflected cross came to the back post, Page found herself alone and ready to meet the ball. “I had a small gap to put the ball in because I saw the keeper coming my direction,” she said over Zoom. “So I just kind of headed the ball and prayed it went in and it did.”
The goal earned a draw for the Jayhawks (3-3-5) and maintained their undefeated record against unranked opponents this season. Coming off this big time performance — her best as a Jayhawk, according to coach Francis — Page knows that despite the steep learning curve at the college level, she can meet her coach’s trust.
“It’s definitely been an adjustment going from a center back to an outside back, but I know what I'm capable of,” said the Shawnee, Kansas native. “My ability in the air is definitely something that I'm good at.”
Coming to Kansas as a recruit, Page’s ability in the air was a known commodity. As a senior at Mill Valley High School, she scored nine goals, most of which came from headers, including a headed goal in the Kansas Class 6A state championship.
Speaking after winning the championship, Page’s Mill Valley coach Jason Pendleton called her the “most dominant player” he’d ever seen as a high school coach, noting that “every team that plays us, when we get a corner kick or a free kick, has to be very, very concerned” with the prospect of Page scoring off of a header.
Now, after her goal against Oklahoma, Big 12 schools will also be on notice.
Francis said that Page still has some catching up to do regarding the pace of Big 12 soccer — “her play with possession at that tempo is probably the area where she’s growing and getting better week by week," Francis said. — but her physical abilities and left-footed passing have already proven extremely useful for the team.
Indeed, Francis has shown faith in Page’s abilities, playing her in every game so far this year, which has been a pleasant surprise for her.
“I didn't really know what it was gonna look like going into the season," she said. "It's been a great opportunity. I've really enjoyed playing with this team and learning from people like Moira [Kelley], and Kenzie Bovie. I really look up to them a lot.”
With the Jayhawks playing two matches nearly every week during Big 12 play, Page is set to have more opportunities to learn on the fly and contribute where she can.
“I'm still learning, but I know what I'm capable of," she said. "
If the recent performance against Oklahoma is any indication, Page is capable of quite a lot.
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