Olivia May has helped win a state championship in softball, contributed to sectional titles in three varsity sports and statistically ranks among the best all-around players in New York state history.
The high school career of the Elmira Notre Dame senior is filled with shining moments and accolades, yet the truth is the magnitude of her impact on the school and her teammates won’t be fully felt until well after she walks off a high school field for the final time.
She will be sorely missed around the Notre Dame campus, though her example and commitment will leave a gigantic mark even after she has completed her college playing career at Cornell University.
“I am so grateful to have gotten to play with her and know her,” said freshman shortstop Alivia Clark. “She’s a great role model and I’m glad I got to be around her and see her work ethic and actually see somebody’s dream come true to play college softball.”
Wendy Weber is the wife of longtime Crusaders softball coach Steve Weber and the team’s scorekeeper. She has known May since her varsity career began as a seventh-grader.
“She is one of the most beautiful souls we’ve ever had on our team,” Wendy Weber said. “I have loved every second of having her. I think the best thing I can say is, it doesn’t matter what the situation is and even if things get tense, if Olivia smiles it’s going to be OK.”
Behind that smile and engaging personality is a highly intense competitor who is a virtual lock to earn first-team Class C all-state softball honors for the fourth straight season after she was selected all-state for the third time this winter in basketball.
The 5-foot-11 right-hander has a 15-1 record this spring with a 0.43 earned run average and 188 strikeouts and 13 walks in 98 1⁄3 innings. At the plate, she is batting .662 with 11 homers and 31 RBIs, helping Notre Dame to a 19-1 record and its fifth straight Interscholastic Athletic Conference South Large School title. The Crusaders are the top seed for the Section 4 Class C tournament.
May ranks among New York state’s all-time leaders in at least nine career and season statistics, including a record 55 career doubles. Her career batting average is .485 with 25 homers, which is fourth most in state history, and she has an 87-10 pitching record with a 0.80 ERA.
Steve Weber said it isn’t fair to the many other talented players to come through his program to proclaim May the best, but he said her combination of pitching and hitting talent makes her unique.
“To be able to hit the way she hits and also pitch like she does, that’s pretty uncommon,” he said.
As impressive as she has been with a bat and ball in hand, the greater picture of May is of a girl who greatly values family, friends, school and is leaning toward a career as an optometrist, which is no doubt a slyly ironic choice for the scores of batters who have doubted their eyesight after flailing away at May’s wide array of pitches.
Even with all her success, the work she has put in to athletics and her disdain for losing, May’s success comes down to a simple philosophy that she has stressed to her young teammates: If you’re not having fun on the softball field, then you’re doing it wrong.
“Positive attitude is everything,” she said. “In the grand scheme of things, this is just a game. It’s a game where you can learn from your mistakes and move on from them.”
May was hitting a ball off a tee as a 3-year-old and playing competitive softball by the time she was 6.
May and her family — which includes dad Craig, mom Nikki and younger brothers Parker and Brock — moved from Ogden, Utah, when she was 6.
The May home is just over the Pennsylvania border in Ridgebury, about a 20-minute drive from Southport, and she attended the Athens Area School District until sixth grade. Enticed by the athletic and academic opportunities offered by Notre Dame and open to a change of scenery, she ended up at Notre Dame’s former junior high school — Holy Family — as a seventh-grader.
“Being a Catholic school, I just thought it would be a cool environment to get a religious outlook on life,” she said. “I never got that at a young age because my family never went to church or anything like that. That was appealing to me and the whole idea of a fresh start going into seventh grade, with all new friends, was just motivating for me to come here.”
May made an immediate impact on the Notre Dame varsity softball team as a shortstop. The Crusaders’ roster included several young players, which Steve Weber said likely made the transition easier for her.
However, longtime Crusaders pitching coach Bruce McMail said it wasn’t all smooth sailing initially.
“There was a time there when she was in seventh grade and they were talking about going back to Athens,” McMail recalls. “I remember telling her mom out in the parking lot that if she ever was to stay here, she would be a star.”
The next level
May quickly lived up to McMail’s “star” prediction, with her softball career really taking off as a freshman, when she became the Crusaders’ full-time No. 1 pitcher.
By the time the 2010 season was over, May pitched Notre Dame to the IAC Large School title and earned first-team Class C all-state honors. She repeated as a first-team all-state pick as a sophomore and junior.
Her sophomore season clearly stands out among a career that includes a combined 123-19 record for May’s teams. The Crusaders finished 26-0 and won the Class C state title with a 2-0 victory over Haldane.
May pitched a four-hitter in the title game and was named New York State Class C Player of the Year and to the Louisville Slugger/National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-East Region first team, an honor she earned again last year.
“I don’t think as a team we realized what we were doing,” May said of the perfect season. “We were just going out and playing. But looking back on it now, it’s unreal that we did what we did. To have a perfect season, that’s just crazy.”
In the moments just after the victory, a tearful May talked about the shift in emotions after she made a base-running mistake that cost her team a scoring chance before ultimately closing out the Crusaders’ eight-inning win. She also choked up as she talked of her joy in helping her teammates reach the ultimate goal and in seeing Taylor Drake hit the winning home run.
“She’s confident and that comes through, but she’s just so sweet to go with it,” Wendy Weber said. “She’s so humble. She’s always sharing credit with everybody else who is playing the game with her.”
A rare talent
May boasts a combination of strength and speed at the top of the Crusaders’ lineup. Among her most impressive stats is 170 career RBIs from the leadoff spot, a number eclipsed by only four hitters in New York state history.
This spring has been her best at the plate, with her 11 home runs tied for fourth most in state history. She also has 10 doubles and a .723 on-base percentage to go with that .662 average.
Steve Weber said May has increased her strength through conditioning programs and the payoff has been evident.
She has also improved as a pitcher and her array of pitches includes a curveball, drop, riseball, change-up and screwball.
“She’s the best kid I’ve ever had as far as being a pitcher. She’s got it all, she really does,” McMail said.
“She’s such a good kid. She listens well. She has a great disposition to be a pitcher. Nothing really bothers her and you could see early on she was going to be a leader.”
Thomas A. Edison coach Becky Cooper said May has a “presence” about her in the pitcher’s circle, with some other teams around the IAC clearly intimidated by that presence. She is the type of player who draws the attention of fans and opponents alike no matter if she’s in the circle or at the plate.
“She’s very confident in what she does and she knows she can throw pitches when she needs to,” Cooper said. “She’s very good and solid and she doesn’t rattle easily and the girls look up to her.”
Steve Weber describes May as a “fierce competitor.” She doesn’t dispute that assessment, which is evident to anybody who has watched her play basketball, softball or tennis at Notre Dame.
“I’ve always been that way, even playing with my little brothers when I was younger,” she said. “We’d always be going at it with each other, like in the back yard playing basketball or anything like that.”
Steve Weber pointed to a game against Newfield earlier this season when May had a rare strikeout at the plate, sprinted back to the dugout upset with herself, then proceeded to hit two home runs.
Leading by example
This season was set up to be among the most challenging for Notre Dame, with May the only senior and one of only three returning players. The Crusaders got off to a rough start, falling 6-3 to fellow IAC power Edison to open the season, but they haven’t lost since.
May has led the way, but the young roster grew up quickly.
“Initially, I don’t think the girls realized what it took to be a successful team,” she said. “They weren’t really that enthused to be there, I don’t think. But once they figured out how much fun it could be to hit the ball and make awesome plays, I think they got a little more motivated to play hard and practice hard and just play the game.”
May pointed out that some of her teammates were in second grade when she started her varsity career and they just needed to come out of their shells and develop confidence. She has done her part by encouraging them.
“I watch her in the dugout with these youngsters and she’s just like a mother hen,” Wendy Weber said. “She teaches, but she does it so gently it doesn’t feel like they’re being reprimanded.”
Said Clark: “If you make a mistake, she’s there to pick you up. And if you do something good, she’s running over to high-five you. … She’s not one of those seniors who comes off as not going to talk to underclassmen. No matter how young you are, she will talk to you and make you feel welcome.”
During her seventh-grade year, it was Emma Pautz who was a mentor and role model for May. On a team with four junior high players, May has taken over that responsibility.
Beyond her words, she also has a work ethic that is off the charts and is the first to run and off the field between innings.
“Coming into this year my job was to be the role model for these younger girls,” May said. “I do that just by working hard in practice and having a good attitude. That’s my biggest thing: When you make a mistake, you don’t hang your head and pout and make a fool out of yourself. You keep your head up and learn from the mistake and try harder next time.”
A bright future
May, a high honors student, will graduate in less than a month. A summer of fun and softball will follow, with May joining her teammates on the 18-under Conklin Raiders travel team for tournaments in Denver and Reno, Nev. She has played travel softball since she was 10 and this is her third year on the Raiders, coached by the well-regarded Dale Cook.
May plays shortstop for the Crusaders when not pitching and is an outfielder for the Raiders, a position she is projected to play at Cornell, though Big Red coach Dick Blood said she’ll also be considered at shortstop and pitcher.
Cornell offers biology, her major of choice, and also has the advantage of being close to home. May also had a partial scholarship offer from Division I Fordham University in New York City.
“When I was looking at Fordham, one of the concerns with my mom was she was saying how she’d never get to see me play and stuff like that,” May said. “But now that I’m only an hour away, she’ll get to come to all my games and I’ll be able to come home on weekends, which is reassuring.”
Blood is excited about adding May to his program, starting with the fall exhibition season. He said May will add speed and athleticism, along with her leadership qualities.
“She’s a wonderful young lady. Very caring of her teammates,” said Blood, who has guided the Big Red to five Ivy League titles in his 18 seasons. “She’s a team player. I like that first and foremost. She’s also a gifted athlete who can run and throw and hit.
“One of our areas we needed to beef up is outfield play and I think she has wonderful instincts. She’s very, very aggressive at the plate. I like that, too.”
Said Whitney Point co-coach Joel Ferrara: “They are definitely lucky to have her. She can hit, she can play, she’s just a good athlete. She’s fun to watch. I wish her the best up there.”
May credits her family with being a big part of her success. Her parents are constants at her games and Brock helps keep score. Parker is also nearby as a first-team All-IAC player for the Notre Dame varsity baseball team, whose games are paired with softball.
Her extended family has grown significantly at Notre Dame, where graduated teammates have shown up this season to watch their friend play. She considers McMail like a grandpa and Crusaders assistant Brad Clark, Alivia Clark’s dad, said his daughter looks up to Olivia as a big sister.
She is also close to girls basketball coach Robert Kelly and to the Webers. As Steve Weber points out, May has been a part of his team for more than a third of her life.
“When somebody is there for six years, she’s more like a family member at that point than a player who has come in and played two years of varsity for you,” he said.
Said Wendy Weber: “We just love her. I can’t imagine her not being there.”