The signs that Autumn Olson had a bright future on the softball diamond were there from the beginning.
Chi-Hi athletic director Mike Thompson can attest to that.
Years ago, the former Cardinals baseball coach caught a glimpse of her at a baseball camp while she was just a young kid. She stood out right away.
“She might have been the only girl there, but she was one of the best players at the camp,” Thompson said.
Her ability has been catching eyes ever since. Olson, now a senior at Chi-Hi, signed a letter of intent Wednesday to play college softball at Viterbo University next year.
Even when she was just a kid at that baseball camp, she knew she wanted to play at the collegiate level.
“It is a dream come true. Ever since I was little, I wanted to play college softball, and this is like a huge dream and accomplishment,” Olson said.
The decision to go to Viterbo was based on both academics and athletics. The well-known appeal of the school’s nursing program was a big factor for Olson.
“I picked Viterbo because they have a really good nursing program, and softball was just a really good perk there,” she said. “I’ve heard a lot of good things about nursing and the softball program, so I was just really excited when the coach had offered me to play for them.”
Olson had a breakout year on the varsity squad last season, earning first team All-Big Rivers honors after batting .404 with three home runs. She helped lift the Cardinals to their ninth consecutive BRC title and a berth in the Division 1 sectional finals.
Viterbo, located in La Crosse, plays in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, better known as the NAIA. The V-Hawks compete in the North Star Athletic Association when it comes to conference play.
“I heard the transition (to the college game) might be a little bit of a struggle at first, but (the Viterbo coaching staff) said the other girls are always there to help and answer any questions that I have,” Olson said.
Chi-Hi has had the opportunity to play more than most teams this spring. The Cardinals escaped the lingering winter weather with a spring break trip to Orlando, Florida, three weeks ago in which they went 3-0.
In those three games, Olson went 5 for 10 at the plate with three RBIs and two extra-base hits while batting third in the Cardinals’ lineup.
Olson patrolled the outfield last season, but has exclusively played third base for Chi-Hi this spring. That versatility should only help when she gets to Viterbo.
“Chi-Hi softball has helped me immensely with my skills, with working with other people, and just becoming a leader in softball,” she said.
As the Cardinals pursue a 10th conference title in a row this season, Olson will also enjoy one final go-around with the family aspect of the team.
“What stands out to me is definitely the softball family that we’ve had throughout all my years, and how great everybody’s been—especially the coaching staff,” she said.