Olivia Petnicki image

Olivia Petnicki ’16

By Lindsey Munar ’16 | May 8, 2020

College sports are no walk in the park – in fact, they are more like a full-time job. A mix of classes, weights, practices, film, and meetings, are just the average schedule for these athletes. Mix in travel time and in-season obligations, and the amount of commitment gets higher than one thought possible. VCHS class of 2016 alumna, Olivia Petnicki, has now graduated from the tireless routine of being a NCAA Division 1 student-athlete. Through her experience, she learned the valuable lesson of taking the leap of faith, despite hesitation, trusting there is more to come. 

Once Petnicki left her successful volleyball career at Vacaville Christian in 2016, she went off to play as a defensive-specialist for the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. While at UOP, Petnicki played indoor and beach volleyball – a year-round commitment. A highlight during her time as a Tiger includes a five set victory against Oregon State in front of a packed Spanos Center. The Spanos Center can seat over 5,000 people – imagine how the environment must have been during that thriller. After two years with the Tigers, Petnicki chose to transfer to the University of North Texas (UNT) in Denton, Texas. Unhappy with the culture of her program at the time, she knew she needed a change. “Looking back on my decision to transfer I remember being so worried of the unknown and taking a leap of faith, but I could not be more happy with my decision,” expressed Petnicki.

“I love where I am at in life and the friends I have made and the amazing experiences I have made out here in Texas.”

UNT proved to be a worthwhile jump. In her first season with the Mean Green, Petnicki appeared in 89 sets, averaging 0.53 assists per set. In the National Invitational Volleyball Championship post-season tournament, Petnicki and her team advanced all the way to the semi-finals. Their run was cut short by Iowa State, but UNT took out Tulsa and Wichita State on the way – “two really good teams”. After her final season, Petnicki walked away with 55 digs and six aces. Unfortunately, she also encountered a serious injury in her last season as a D1 volleyball player. 

Petnicki developed thoracic outlet syndrome at the start of her senior year. “My whole arm would be in extreme pain and there were days I could not play through the pain. I struggled for about 6 months before I got an appointment with a vascular surgeon.” Almost immediately after the appointment she braved a surgery where her first rib was removed. Additionally, the doctors released her pec minor muscle and three scalene muscles. “Thoracic outlet is a pretty rare syndrome where the veins, arteries, and/or nerves are getting cut off in your shoulder/neck area and cause symptoms in your arm. For me my symptoms were swelling of the whole arm, constant aching from my neck to my hand, and nerve issues.” After two months of unanswered questions, Petnicki found a solution and much needed relief in order to help her pain. She is now happily on the road to recovery.

Olivia Petnicki imageBack in high school, Petnicki was an essential piece to the three-peat volleyball section champion team of 2013 to 2015. She was Player of the Game in the 2015 section finals and was also nominated for the Sacramento Optimist All-Star game the same year. Though she has been privileged with once in a lifetime experiences as a college athlete, she still faced temporary doubt when considering the commitment of D1 sports. 

“Sometimes I feel like I missed out on a normal college experience because I was so busy with volleyball. I wish I could have had more free time or even rushed a sorority at a big school. However,  looking back I would not want to do it any other way!”

Petnicki shares that she loved being a college athlete and all the perks that came with being a division one player. Not only were the free clothes awesome, but the valuable lessons made the sacrifice worth it.  

Now graduated from UNT, Petnicki is pursuing her MBA in Marketing Analytics. If she could share any piece of advice to prospective athletes who want to play at the collegiate level, she tells first and foremost to believe in yourself!

“You have to be your biggest supporter and advocate, especially mentally! College sports are NOT easy at all, especially at the division 1 level. There are so many days athletes don’t enjoy what they do at all, and even think if any of it is worth it. I have been there, trust me. But you have to push through the hard times and always believe you are the best on that court or field.”

She encourages athletes to give their 110%, stay present, and be a respectable teammate on and off the court, as those relationships you have off the court end up being far more important than the games you play.

From Olivia Petnicki to her Vacaville Christian community: I am very grateful for the extremely supportive Vacaville Christian family! I attended VCS since I was 4 years old, and grew up in the school. I feel so blessed to have gotten to grow up in such a Christian environment, especially as I have gone to a public college where many did not get the upbringing I did. I fell in love with volleyball at VCS, made some of my closest friends, created some of the best memories, and ultimately learned how to be a hard worker. The most important thing I learned at VCS was how to love God and trust Him in everything I do. I cannot imagine how my life could be right now if I did not have all of the support I did from the Vacaville Christian community! Thank you!!!

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