Olson, MSU earn spot in D-II tour

Her sophomore years appear to be successful ones for Minnesota State University, Mankato guard Ashley Olson.

As a sophomore at Blue Earth Area High School, Olson was a member of the Buc girls basketball team that earned the program’s first appearance in the Minnesota State High School League’s Class AA state tournament.

Olson contributed 14 points to Blue Earth Area’s cause, but the team’s state tournament appearance was cut short by St. Peter, who defeated the Bucs in the quarterfinals, 55-38.

Now, as a college sophomore, Olson has a chance to compete again in the big dance with the Mavericks (25-5), who are the No. 4 seed in the Central Region of the NCAA Division II women’s basketball tournament. The Mavericks took on No. 5 seed Arkansas Tech on Friday night in Topeka, Kan.

“It is definitely exciting to get to play in the (Division II) tournament and I’m looking forward to it,” said Olson. “It’s a big deal.”

The 5-foot-6 point guard started her college career by playing for the University of South Dakota. Olson, however, transferred and has seen a lot of playing time in the backcourt for the Mavericks.

“It was a big transition from high school to college, but the intensity is the same from South Dakota to here. I think the biggest change is, at Mankato, we don’t have to travel as far for our games,” said Olson.

MSU’s women’s basketball team had a 14-game winning streak going into the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference championship game against Augustana last Saturday. Unfortunately for the Mavericks, the third time was not the charm. After beating the Vikings twice during the regular season, the Mavericks fell in the conference championship 81-73.

By earning a place in the championship, the Mavericks clinched a bid in the NCAA tournament.

“During the season we beat them (Augustana) twice, but they were close games,” said Olson. “It’s a bummer we couldn’t beat them in the championship, but they are in our region for the tournament. So if we have to play them, hopefully we’ll win that one.”

As the point guard, Olson is averaging 6.3 points per game, with a career-high 14 points in a 77-71 victory over the University of Minnesota-Duluth on Jan. 19.

Olson’s effort against the Bulldogs, along with a 12-point performance in an 86-56 win over Southwest Minnesota State University on Dec. 14, and 11-point performances in a 78-56 loss to Wayne State on Jan. 5 and a 69-65 loss to St. Cloud State on Jan. 18, has helped her earn more minutes on the floor.

Olson is shooting 37.3 percent from behind the 3-point arc, while making 34 percent of her shots from 2-point range, helping her rack up 188 points this season.

During her high school career on the hardwood for the Bucs, Olson amassed 566 points at a 12.5-point average and shot 37 percent from 3-point land. She also made 140 steals and 97 assists en route to being named all-South Central Conference and to the Sentinel All-Area team twice.

“I was always a point guard. Ever since I started playing, I worked on my ball-handling,” said Olson. “Being a point guard is like being a floor general and a leader. I always try to know where everyone should be.”

And now Olson will get the chance to help lead the Mavericks to the NCAA Division II National Championship. Which isn’t too bad, considering eight years ago Olson was still tumbling around as a gymnast and didn’t start playing competitive basketball until sixth grade.

“I was in gymnastics up until fifth grade. Then I decided I didn’t want to spend a lot of money and probably end up hurt later on. I had played community education basketball, but nothing competitive before that,” said Olson.

Olson is definitely playing competitive basketball now.

“(MSU) Mankato was my second choice for schools that I wanted to attend, but now my family can come see almost all of my games and I can go home to watch my brother play basketball, too,” said Olson. “That makes a big difference for me. And playing in this tournament is going to be so exciting. We’re going to prepare and practice this week and hopefully get at least one win.”

With any luck, this sophomore year could be even more successful than her tournament experience as a sophomore four years ago.