Davies volleyball coach Carolyn Olson enjoys emotional homecoming in return to Grand Forks Red River
FARGO — Fargo Davies volleyball coach Carolyn Olson had a hard time remembering which team she was coaching on Tuesday.
The hall of fame volleyball coach returned to Grand Forks Red River — a place she called home for 25 years — for the first time as a visitor as her Eagles took on the Roughriders.
It was her first time coaching the visiting team in that gym since accepting the coaching job at Davies and leaving the school where she had spent the previous quarter century. Olson built a hall of fame resume at Red River, winning six state titles and being named North Dakota High School Coaches Association coach of the year eight times. She was named to the NDHSCA Hall of Fame in 2016 and the National High School Coaches Association hall of fame this summer.
“I spent a lot of time with those people up there (Red River) and I consider them close friends,” Olson said. “The volleyball community there is like a family to me. So it was kind of like a homecoming. You know when your kids go off to college and then they come home, everybody is happy to see them.”
During the match, it was business as usual for the coach and her EDC-leading Eagles as they took three straight sets from Red River. But the moments before and after the match were a revolving door of memories and conversations with old friends.
Right away when she walked in the door, Olson saw an old co-worker and started up a conversation. And then another person came up and joined the conversation. And another. And another. Many of the coach’s old athletes and their parents came out to support her and welcome her back. And she had plenty of opportunities to meet and chat with them before she had to leave her old home to return to her new one 70 miles south.
“The opportunity to go back and to know how significant those people are in my life and to know that I am significant in their life too was really meaningful,” Olson said. “It was a good night. I was exhausted from talking to everyone. It was good to see everybody. They made the effort to come out. They made the effort to be there. It was good to have the time to acknowledge that.”
The ability to see players she coached on both sides of the net was special for Olson, she said. She relished the opportunity to sit back and observe the development of her old players on the Red River side as well as her new ones on the Davies side. She worked with the Red River athletes as recently as a couple of months ago as she helped with their summer program while they looked for her replacement.
“I watch the Red River kids and think ‘Wow, she’s really improved at this,’ or ‘she’s really improved at that,’ or ‘she still needs to work on that,” Olson said. “And the Davies kids — we’re still trying to work on our game and focus on some things here and we’re sticking to our game plan and trying to focus on those things. At match time it was just thinking in that coaches mode.”
The last couple of months have been a whirlwind for the coach since moving to Fargo. She and her family moved to Fargo on Aug. 1 and from that point on it’s been non-stop. Volleyball tryouts started the same day as back-to-school meetings for teachers and that led right into volleyball season and the start of the school year.
“I just can’t say enough about the (assistant) coaches (at Davies),” Olson said. “They’ve literally helped me step-by-step through the process. I come in with a lot of experience, but I don’t come in with the knowledge of how Fargo Public Schools works and how everything works here. I know how it works in Grand Forks, but not here. So even today they continually help me through every little thing that happens.”
The decision to move from Grand Forks to Fargo was a family-first decision. Her husband Lionel’s parents recently moved to Fargo and her own parents live in Watertown, S.D. So the opportunity to be in the same town as her husband’s parents and an hour closer to her own was too much to pass up. They also wanted to give her children — sophomore Levi and eighth-grader McKenzie — the opportunity to experience life in a new city before they go off to college.
“I felt like it was important for them to learn how to be somewhere else and make friends and to make those transitions,” Olson said. “At some point they’ll go off to college, or the military, or the work force and they’ll have to know how to do that. So we were able to do that with them still under our roof and to be able to help them through that process. The opportunity presented itself and there was discussion and we felt like it was the right time to do those things as a family.”
As big of a transition as it is for Olson and her family, she can still remember that there is more that is the same about Grand Forks and Fargo than there is different.
“It’s still North Dakota nice and 70 miles to the south is not that much different,” she said. “There’s certainly more traffic in Fargo than there is in Grand Forks and it takes a whole lot longer to get places. But there are some real benefits to it as well.”