Junior thrives since transfer to Rock

Published by , Author: Jordyn Bennett - Rocket Contributor, Date: February 4, 2016
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At this time last year, Slippery Rock junior thrower JJ Ollio was sitting out after transferring from Duquesne University.

After struggling to adjust to a tough academic schedule, living in an environment that lacked privacy and balancing school and his love for track at Duquesne, the junior found a place he could comfortably call home on and off the track at The Rock.

Ollio was not always the standout athlete he is today. The bearded giant was humbled to be recognized as The Rocket’s athlete of the month.

“It’s amazing that people are recognizing me,” Ollio said. “I’ve never actually been recognized for anything athletically.”

His athletic career had been rocky before coming to SRU. A graduate of high school football powerhouse Pittsburgh Central Catholic, he originally pursued playing collegiate football but his plans were cut short due to a shoulder injury.

Next he pursued baseball but did not make the team. The same day that he was cut, Ollio said that an older friend of his told him he should come out and try throwing for the track team. Suddenly, Ollio found a sport that he fit into.

“I thank him so much to this day because he got me into track,” Ollio said.

After a senior campaign that landed him eighth in the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL) in shot put, Ollio’s original intentions were to come to Slippery Rock and continue his track career, but instead chose to go to Duquesne after receiving an academic scholarship he could not refuse.

The burdens of a top academic university and a Division I program was not something Ollio said he could handle.

He had to give up track in order to keep up with his work, but he said the absence of track was making his experience worse. He couldn’t let track go.

“At the end of my freshman year I wanted to come here,” Ollio said. “As soon as I put that in my head, I talked to Meagan (Shadeck) who I had known from high school and told her I’m coming to Slippery Rock and would like to try out for the team.”

Throwing coach Meagan Shadeck said she was just as excited to have him become a part of the team as he was.

She said she remembered Ollio from his recruitment process, and even though he made the decision to pursue another school, it was great that he ended up at The Rock in the end.

“We are more than thrilled to have him,” Shadeck said. “He’s dedicated himself to the sport and to the team. If you ask anyone on the team who JJ is, they know. He’s a team player.”

Ollio’s dedication started a year before he began competing. When he transferred, Ollio did not have enough credits to compete immediately and had to sit out last season. Even though it was not an easy situation to deal with, Ollio said that not being able to compete was a really good experience for him.

“I got to learn a lot from our seniors last year,” Ollio said. “A couple of kids even stuck around this year and I continued to learn a lot from them too. They really opened up to me a lot more than I expected and really welcomed me. It made my transition a lot nicer.”

The year off gave Ollio time to learn and develop his body to prepare him for the year he has been having so far.

In the opening meet, Ollio placed third at the YSU Icebreaker in both the shot put (49’8.25”) and the weight throw (53’1.50”).

Throwing an even further distance in shot put at 50’10.25” at the YSU College invitational on January 22, Ollio has already qualified for the conference meet and does not sit too far below NCAA provisionals.

“It was nice that I came back and still had it,” Ollio said. “It wasn’t a mojo that I lost. Which is good, because my goal all season has been to hit the provisional mark in at least one event. I know that I probably won’t go to nationals, but with my GPA I can earn academic All-American.”

After having a tough time with his academics at Duquesne, Ollio has found comfort in his education. Changing his major from exercise science to mathematics after the transfer, and then changing again to health care and administration, he has found what he’s wanted to do and his grades have shown it.

Ollio said he has almost a 3.5, which surpasses the 3.3 academic All-American requirement.

Although Ollio does not see himself on a national stage, the people around him do.

Head coach John Papa envisions him as a future force in Division II track and field.

“Right now he is going to be one of our best team leaders and be right up top in our conference,” Papa said. “He’ll hopefully be competing for a conference championship. You never know, he could even be competing on the national level as well. All the arrows are pointing in the right direction for him.”

Ollio said that he finally feels at home athletically and academically at The Rock.

If he continues to train and compete the way he has been, Papa’s prediction of his athletic ability on the national stage could come true.

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