JOLIET — Ry Olson hates to lose.
Sure, most athletes do. But Olson’s obvious disdain for defeats is ever-present, especially when reminded of close ones. During his sophomore year at the Southern B Divisional basketball tournament, Olson’s Joliet J-Hawks were one point away from qualifying for the state basketball tournament before Lodge Grass drilled a buzzer-beater on the Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark floor to stun Joliet.
When asked about that loss, Olson’s face contorts into one of pain almost as he lets out a sigh saying, “That’s a game that kind of hit us hard the most just knowing we were one point away from going to state. It’s heartbreaking but you’re going to have to get over it sooner or later but it still stings every once in a while.
“I don’t know how to put it but there’s just one thing that’s a part of me that I want to come out with a win. So I’m going to do whatever I can to put my team in the best spot that it can be.”
But it’s that dislike of losing that drives the now senior three-sport standout.
That drive ultimately brought success in basketball and track the following year. Last season as a junior and a team captain, Olson helped lead Joliet back to the state basketball tournament, surprising teams after the J-Hawks experienced a roller coaster of a season. Then, in track, Olson placed in all three jumping events including a win in the long jump.
His football career began to taste success a year ago when Joliet dropped down to 8-Man from Class B. The J-Hawks finished the year 8-2 and made the postseason but lost in the first round to Charlo.
“We knew that coming in we were going to have a good team,” Olson said. “We had speed, big guys, but we didn’t know right off the bat what it would really look like. We started clicking pretty quickly against Belt and it’s starting to flow."
Ry, or Rylan, has started on the varsity football team since his freshman year, when the J-Hawks were Class B. Since his sophomore year, he has started on both sides of the ball, but was moved from receiver to quarterback this year.
The 8-Man transition came his junior year, a change the team saw coming due to dwindling numbers. But their immediate success was a plus.
“We knew we’d have a solid team last year. Just like this year we were quick and big,” Olson said. “Coming in, not seeing the teams we were going to see compared to 11-Man where we kind of knew what was coming, it was a whole new ballgame. But our flow between 8- to 11-Man was pretty good.”
This year, Olson is one of five seniors on Joliet’s roster who are leading the way, along with Lane Nardinger, Grant O’Rourke, Justin Harris and Walker Anttila. Each has made their own way to the varsity ranks, but Olson said it’s a tight-knit group contributing to the J-Hawks' success.
“We’ve learned how to play together and I feel like that’s the biggest thing and bringing that to the other three or four players who are on the field with us,” Olson said. “We’ve kind of just had that bond and that’s made us a better team.”
“We have a lot of studs, but particularly with Ry, offensively, it goes through him,” Joliet coach George Warburton said. “He does a great job of improvising. He’s a solid captain on and off the field. Very athletic and a lot of us runs through him so a lot of our success comes from Ry, that’s for sure.
“You could see that he was excited about having that spotlight on him and the reason why is because it helps his other teammates get open.”
Olson has flashed a lot of big-play ability this year for Joliet. Whether it be a long run on a keeper, a pass, a pick-six or catching a bubble screen on a trick-play, his coach says he does whatever is asked.
Olson is also in his second year as a team captain for the J-Hawks. While surprising coming as a junior, Olson’s leadership is exemplified by his laundry list of activities he does off of the field. Notably, he has served as a teacher’s aide to kindergartners and first-graders.
“The big thing is I love kids and being able to help those kids and when they see me around the school, I try to be a role model for them,” Olson said. “Just helping them be able to be the type of kids you need to be by your middle school and high school career. I feel like it’s a big thing. If you can lean them in the right direction it helps a lot.
“Growing up, it was pretty cool when you’d come to basketball or football camps and you get to see these high schoolers helping out. You’ve always wanted to be one of those people. As I grew up, helping kids was kind of my thing. It’s a lot of work but it’s something I love doing.”
Warburton added the Olson also has participated in Rachel’s Challenge, an anti-bullying and violence movement, as well as the Montana Behavioral Institute.
Olson said having a lot of younger cousins is where he found his initial enjoyment in helping out kids. He said he weighs the option of being a teacher in the future.
Olson’s older brother, Ty, was a standout at Joliet in his own right. Ry got to play alongside his brother for two years, and he said there has not been a bigger motivator.
“He probably pushed me the most,” Olson said. “If I wanted to play with him I had to work hard and get on the team. That was the main reason so he really pushed me to where we could get being able to play together on the field or court.”
As far as the far future goes, Olson said he has received a fair amount of interest for all three of his sports, notably the University of Mary for track and field. Initially he always wanted to play college basketball, but after last year's state track and field meet, he’s now weighing all three equally and exploring his newfound options.
But in the immediate focus, Olson will look at Friday’s home game against No. 6 Hobson-Moore-Judith Gap (5-0). The J-Hawks, ranked No. 5 in the 406mtsports.com rankings, also sit at 5-0, with both teams tied atop the 8-Man South. The winner will take a firm grasp at the top of the conference and could be well on its way to a No. 1 seed in the postseason.
That effect is not lost on Olson and Joliet, but he understands that the J-Hawks end goal reaches past Friday night.
“Friday’s going to be a big test but who knows what the outcome is going to be,” Olson said. “We have a good team, they have a good team, so no matter what, win or loss, Friday is not going to win or break our season. But we just have to have that mentality that we need to win just game after game. It’s going to help out a lot and if we can get this momentum going with some wins going into the playoffs, we have a chance of going far.”