Young Ben Franklin leader Allison Olsonoski showing courage

Olsonoski stays positive after mother succumbs to cancer

Despite recent sorrow, Allison Olsonoski has used her uses her positive attitude and quirky demeaner to energize Ben Franklin High School’s volleyball team.

“Allie’s the light-hearted one,” Lady Falcons coach Jodee Pulizzano said of Olsonoski, whose mother, Joni, lost a long battle with cancer on May 27. “She’s the talker.”

A 6-foot-2 sophomore middle blocker, Olsonoski, has drawn interest from several colleges for her ability on the court and in the classroom.

As a freshman, Olsonoski led Franklin in kills with 382.

“They babied her, which is a good thing,” Pulizzano said. “She should double her kills this year. And after that, who knows?”

A surprising level of impulsiveness guided Olsonoski’s decision to play volleyball. In junior high people frequently asked Allie, as she is called, what sport she played.

At the time, it was soccer.

Those same people suggested she use her height, 5-5 in the fourth grade, to play volleyball.

Olsonoski decided to go for it, much to the benefit of Ben Franklin.

This summer, Olsonoski has focused on becoming a more vocal leader. She caught her teammates by surprise when she voiced frustration about their play at LSU’s varsity volleyball camp in July.

“I don’t try to take their place,” Allie said about the upperclassmen on the team. “But I’m trying to learn.”

She will have to learn without the presence of departed senior Reina Evans, whom Allie called her big sister.

“Reina knew her like a book,” Pulizzano said.

Allie also has gained her positive outlook from difficult life lessons.

The Olsonoskis experienced some good fortune in the months after Hurricane Katrina flooded their Lakeview home with 11 feet of water.

Her aunt’s family in Baton Rouge had children who attended St. James Episcopal. That connection allowed Allie and her brother, Nick, to enroll before the school began accepting other displaced children.

Her father’s friend had a house on the market in Baton Rouge. The house was unsold at the time, and Bob’s friend let the family move there.

Sadly, the good fortune ran out.

Joni Olsonoski had been experiencing stomach pains. A doctor’s visit two months after the storm revealed bad news: colon cancer.

Allie’s family moved back to New Orleans in January 2006. She and Nick returned to St. Paul’s Episcopal. What should have been a joyous homecoming became the beginning of an ongoing battle with the disease.

“We dealt with it off and on for years until a couple of months ago,” said Allie, who had witnessed her mother’s struggle for more than half of her life before Joni Olsonoski died.

“The cancer spread to her lungs,” Allie said.“It was in too many spots.”

“She was always so positive,” Pulizzano said about Joni’s attitude during treatment. “There were times you never would have known she had cancer.”

Allie has displayed the same outlook while she deals with her loss. She puts on a tough face around others. According to Pulizzano, Allie did not even cry at the funeral.

When she spoke about her mother’s death, Allie quickly shifted her comments to concern for her brother and the added stress of his college decision.

Nick is also an athlete and entering his senior year at Franklin. Her decision to attend the school was partly influenced by the “comfort factor” she would feel being close to him. Her brother is also the driving force behind her athletic and academic efforts.

“Being competitive, I want to meet or exceed him in school,” she said.

Her desire to improve has led to a busy offseason. In June, Allie played with a 17-and-under age group at an AAU tournament in Orlando, where college coaches took notice. That team tied for ninth nationally. She also did well in LSU’s camp.

Allie suggested that her emotions might catch up to her soon, when her schedule becomes less chaotic.

She will not have to assume full responsibility for Franklin’s success overnight. The team still has six seniors. She has plenty of time to consider her college decision.

“She has allies,” Pulizzano said. “They’ll provide them the stability off the court she provides them on it.”