Kory Olsen came to McHenry County College as a slick-fielding, contact-hitting shortstop with a sore back.
The 2017 Crystal Lake South graduate is leaving the NJCAA school with the same sweet glove, a much more lively bat and a vastly different body type.
Olsen recently accepted a scholarship offer from Western Illinois University in Macomb, where he will have three years of eligibility remaining because he completed only one official season at MCC.
“It’s definitely a sigh of relief,” Olsen said. “With the season getting canceled [because of the COVID-19 pandemic], I didn’t know what the next step was going to be for me. A lot of schools I talked to told me to hang on or didn’t get back to me. I talked to Western about a week before they offered me. I didn’t have to think too much. They were willing to take a chance on me, which, a lot of schools in this situation weren’t. It was kind of an easy choice.”
Olsen hit .343 with an on-base percentage of .456 last season for the Scots. He had seven doubles, two triples and two home runs, walked 27 times with only nine strikeouts. He was an All-Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference honorable mention selection.
Olsen was off to a hot start this season, hitting .423 with a .531 OBP, one homer (a grand slam) and 11 RBIs before the season was stopped.
Scots coach Jared Wacker said Olsen’s time in the weight room helped change him as a hitter. Olsen’s exit velocity jumped from about 80 mph last season to about 95 mph this season. Wacker purchased a RAPSODO hitting unit, which measures various hitting metrics in the batting cage.
“He was kind of a light-hitting shortstop coming in, he could make contact and hit well with two strikes, and was a high on-base guy,” Wacker said. “Here, he really put in a lot of time in the weight room and focused on getting stronger and bought into what we’re trying to do from a philosophical standpoint on the offensive side.”
South coach Brian Bogda, a teammate of Wacker at Elmhurst College, noticed Olsen, who has added about 30 pounds since high school, was different this spring when Bogda attended an MCC workout.
“I can’t believe how much Kory’s grown and how much stronger he is,” Bogda said. “He is a completely different ballplayer than his senior year. He’s put on solid, bulk muscle. He looks like a different person. That carries through with a stronger arm and balls fly off his bat a lot harder.”
Olsen started at shortstop for South’s Class 4A state championship team. He usually hit about sixth in the order and batted .267 with 19 RBIs.
Olsen started college at NAIA Mount Mercy College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, but he developed back problems during the fall.
“I played football and basketball in high school and didn’t really have a lot of [baseball] swings,” Olsen said. “I just played every sport. When baseball came around, that would be the first time I picked up a bat. Something happened [to my back] my senior year of football. It would get better, then get worse, for a long time.
“When I got to college, I was swinging all the time. I thought I was healthy when I went there, but I wasn’t.”
Olsen transferred to MCC in the spring of 2018, but his back hurt so much he couldn’t bend over to pick up ground balls. He told Wacker he could not play and received a medical redshirt, which does not count against an athlete’s eligibility.
That summer, Olsen went to physical therapy and got better. He said it was muscles around the vertebrae that were causing the problem. He didn’t swing or play baseball. Then, in the fall, he hit the weights hard with players such as Huntley’s Jeff Heinrich and Jacobs’ Ryan McGorian.
“There’s too many names,” Olsen said. “[Lifting] is a big team thing where everyone just buys into it. That’s what’s special about that place.”
With the time to now devote to just baseball, Olsen, now at 180 pounds, made the huge jumps with his offensive game and boosted him to a D-I prospect. He will be the fourth player off the Gators’ state championship team to play D-I baseball, following Brian Fuentes (Indiana State), Ryan Parquette (Campbell) and Kyle Lang (Eastern Illinois). Olsen, Lang and Parquette played at MCC together in 2019.
Olsen plans on majoring in physical education with eyes on possibly becoming a high school coach.
Bogda thinks Western is getting a dependable, versatile player.
“It’s just cool to see the ball fly off his bat and see what he’s doing,” Bogda said. “It was nice to have a shortstop you can trust is going to make the plays behind the wonderful pitching that we had [in 2017]. He’s such a good athlete. What a competitor and a wonderful kid to coach. He’ll do just fine wherever [position] he’s at.”