FARGO — A black facemask with a Bison logo on the right side had a hard time concealing the excitement in Marie Olson’s voice. And it was obvious over the course of 10 minutes in talking about North Dakota State women’s basketball that she was smiling more often than not.
For good reason. After a year of sitting out one season because of NCAA transfer rules and several months of rehabilitating two separate quadricep injuries, Olson is back where she belongs: on the court.
“It’s definitely go time,” she said, “and I take that as a challenge because I get the butterflies in my stomach thinking about being able to play and to just be in that game setting again.”
Olson transferred to NDSU after spending her true freshman season at SMU. The 6-foot-2 forward played in 27 games, starting 10, averaging 3.0 points and 2.4 rebounds per game.
Olson grew up in the Twin Cities, but moved to California when she was 16 years old when her father, Jon Olson, got another job. She flourished at Oak Hills High School in El Dorado Hills, Calif.; ESPN tabbed her as a three-star recruit and the 19th-best prep forward in the country.
Her AAU team, CalStars, went 51-1 in her final season. But SMU, she said, didn’t have the environment she was looking for.
Her grandfather, Edgar Olson, went to NDSU. So did an aunt. She has one cousin at NDSU and another who used to attend NDSU. Her sister, Oak Hills seniors Sophie Olson, verbally committed to the University of North Dakota.
“I chose NDSU wanting to come home to the Midwest,” Marie said. “I felt like this culture around this area benefits me more than the other culture I was in. There’s a family history here — family — and I missed that. When we moved to California, we were completely isolated. Both of my parents were born and raised in Minnesota so I didn’t see any family (in California) and that’s what I was missing. I think of our team as family.”
Her team is entering the second year of a rebuilding project under head coach Jory Collins and a steady improvement last year is expected to continue. Guard Heaven Hamling joined Olson as Division I transfers who had to sit out; Hamling coming from Stephen F. Austin (Texas).
Hamling was a Minnesota Miss Basketball finalist at Grand Rapids her senior year in 2018. Only four players who played last year at NDSU are on the roster this year.
Players are currently going through limited individual workouts with coaches while continuing strength and conditioning training.
It remains to be seen how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the starting date for practice and regular season games.
“With the COVID thing, there’s a lot more restrictions on how we can go about things,” Olson said. “But I think we’re doing pretty well. I love being able to come back. We were very fortunate in being allowed to come back this summer; not a lot of colleges were doing that. Girls I played AAU with, girls that I know that are D-1, they didn’t even go back to campus for the summer let alone work out with their teams and we were very fortunate we even got to do that.”
The importance of that for NDSU is it is a young team. Center Emily Dietz and forward Michelle Gaislerova are the lone seniors. Olson and Hamling are sophomores. Sophomore guard Ryan Cobbins started all 30 games last year.
Olson, Hamling and Cobbins were Collins’ first recruits.
“We definitely grew as a team,” Olson said. “But this year is a whole different dynamic. We had our first team practice last week and it was just beyond anything compared to the first practice last year. It’s a night and day difference.”