Olivia DeBortoli was packing her bags and looking toward graduation in December, 2022.
Having completed her bachelor’s in biological sciences, the Clifton Park, New York native was set to leave UB after a successful four-year career with the volleyball team. She was planning on enrolling in a physician's assistant graduate school at another university.
But her plans were put on hold when she received an unexpected text from Scott Smith, her head volleyball coach. Smith asked the 6’2 DeBortoli if she would consider joining UB’s women’s basketball team instead of leaving Buffalo.
First-year head coach Becky Burke was scrambling for roster depth after 6’2 forward Kiara Johnson suffered a season-ending achilles injury. The Bulls were already thin on height, and with the conference schedule approaching, mid-season tryouts were not an option.
“When KJ went down, we knew we needed to fill that void, and quickly,” Burke said. “We racked our brains on potential avenues of someone who has a basketball background, and volleyball came to mind as a similar court sport.”
Burke reached out to Smith to see if he knew of any players that could help the basketball team. Smith knew he had just the player in DeBortoli — who played three years of varsity basketball at Shenendehowa East High School in Saratoga County, New York.
“Of course I said yes,” DeBortoli said. “I’ve always loved basketball.”
DeBortoli met with Burke to discuss logistics and what to expect joining the team mid-season. She was granted an athletic scholarship for basketball, moved in with one of her volleyball teammates and re-enrolled at UB.
After watching DeBortoli on the volleyball court for four seasons, Smith knew she could make an impact on the basketball team.
Despite a decreased role under Burke, DeBortoli’s work ethic carried over from volleyball.
“She just goes out and does her job and pushes the pace of practice and holds everyone accountable,” Smith said. “I think all of those attributes are really showing up in basketball as well because she’s not getting as many minutes, but she’s doing exactly what she did for us. She’s giving them another good physical presence that is helping everyone else.”
In her senior year with the volleyball team, DeBortoli appeared in eight matches off the bench and finished with a career-high three solo blocks against Central Michigan on Oct. 29. She also ranks in the program’s top-10 with a career average of 1.02 blocks per set.
When she joined the basketball team, DeBortoli assumed the familiar position of a reserve player.
“I feel like my role on each team is actually pretty similar even though I went in a lot more in volleyball,” she said. “I wasn’t, at least my senior year, a starter for volleyball, so I was kind of put in when needed. Although I’m not really going in on basketball, I feel like I’m still put where I’m needed, which is just like scouting or being a role player.”
Burke described DeBortoli as a “light” for the basketball team and commended her for bringing “positivity and great energy.”
DeBortoli joined the women’s basketball team in the midst of a rebuild. She spoke about the program’s changing atmosphere.
“I was with the same girls for like three or four years, and we knew what to expect going into each season,” DeBortoli said about UB volleyball. “With basketball, there’s all new players and a new coaching staff. They were still trying to find their identity when I first joined.”
According to Burke, DeBortoli ended up being a great part of that identity.
“She was one of the biggest blessings to happen to our program this year,” Burke said. “She is a coach’s dream, works hard, does the little things, wants to see the program — and UB in general — succeed. And I am so grateful that she chose to be a part of our women’s basketball family and that I got the opportunity to coach a young woman like Liv.”
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