Photo By J. Alan Paul Photography
Marie Olson has seen plenty of things throughout her basketball career. She grew up in the Twin Cities, playing AAU in the illustrious North Tartan program. Her family then relocated to El Dorado Hills, California, just outside of Sacramento. While there, Olson compiled a 51-1 AAU record.
From California came Texas as Olson originally committed to play basketball at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. One year with the Mustangs was enough for Olson, though. Despite appearing in 27 games for SMU in 2018-19, Olson was missing something in her basketball career. She had hit a wall and was not seeing herself improve on or off the floor as a true freshman.
Making the tough decision to transfer, Olson had North Dakota State in the corner of her eye. Not only was she recruited by NDSU in high school, but her family also has a history with the school. Olson has relatives who are proud Bison alumnus.
Yet, things were changing at NDSU when Olson was opting to transfer somewhere else. The school had just hired Jory Collins to be their head coach. It was not even a month into Collins’ tenure that Olson took her official visit to Fargo.
It was on that visit that Olson decided NDSU would become her new home. After sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, Olson is excited to play and grow in Fargo.
You grew up in the Twin Cities, then moved to California, then played at SMU and you are now in Fargo. What was your decision-making process in coming to NDSU?
When I decided to transfer, I was in a spot where I didn’t feel like I could grow much more. It was not really the environment for me and I had kind of hit a stone wall. I came to the conclusion that if I was going to continue to play basketball, it just can’t be here at SMU. That kind of fed into why I transferred. When I took my visits, NDSU was my fourth and last visit. I have always had a history with this school because I was recruited by the last coaching staff. When I was brought here, I met all of the girls the first day that I was here and Jory [Collins] made it a very inviting environment.
When I was walking around and getting a tour of the facility, everyone I came in contact with didn’t know who I was, they barely knew Jory at the time, but they were so polite and said they wanted me to come here. They didn’t even know who I was. To me, that showed that NDSU cares about who is coming here and who they want to be a Bison. That was a wow factor for me. What sold me was that I really wanted to play for Jory. He made me want to play for him and work hard. I hadn’t had that feeling in a while. I saw the vision that Jory had and all the girls do too so I was just sold.
Coach Collins was in his first month on that visit. That takes a tremendous amount of commitment and confidence to know that under such a new head coach. Was there any fear or doubt in your mind because coach Collins was so new to the NDSU job?
There is always fear, no matter if I made the decision to come here or another school. No matter where I was going to go, I was already nervous. When I decided on NDSU, I was ready to take on that new adventure. When Jory would talk to me and tell me how he sees me on the floor and talking about the other girls, when I watched them all last season, it just felt right. With the leap of faith that I did take, I needed to focus on what I could do, what I could bring to this team and this program. For me, seeing all the other girls workout and how Jory coached, I just felt like even though I was taking a leap, it was the right leap.
Obviously, being a transfer last season forced you to the bench for the whole year. What were some of the pros and cons of having that year off in 2019-20?
Sitting on the bench is almost like biting your tongue because you want to be out there so badly. Every time Jory would look down the bench, I would think ‘is it me?’ and then you realize you’re not even in a uniform. That was really hard because playing games is where you can show off everything you’ve been working towards. Even though I was practicing and working towards the goal too, I just couldn’t play and show everyone what I was capable of. Getting injured was one more thing on top of having to sit out. That was almost a positive though because I was able to give my body a well-needed break. I have been playing year-round since I was in fifth grade.
Another pro would be having Heaven [Hamling] by my side because she had to sit out too. You have to give credit to those athletes that are the lone transfer on their team because that is a tough situation to go through. When you’re not traveling or playing, it’s nice to have someone that understands those hard parts. So Heaven was a huge pro for me.
Seeing how the girls worked together and how Jory coached is big too. Now, as a sophomore, I have a better understanding of what he wants as a team and what he wants for me. Just watching everything really helped me develop the mental side of the game. It took a lot of mental strength because all I wanted to do was go out there and play. I know Heaven felt the same. It was hard, but I think it was a good experience.
Basketball now has this start date of November 25. Given that you haven’t played a basketball game since your time at SMU, how geared up are you for game number one?
I am so excited. I have a countdown on my phone until the 25th. I look at it every day and say ‘that’s another day closer’. I know everyone is the same way too. Being in such an uncertain situation where we didn’t even know if we would have a season, to have that date, even if it is pushed back, I know everybody is so ready. In practice, we’re practicing against each other every day. There are only so many combinations you can make on our team. Once we get that day where we can play against other people for an official game, I think that is going to be a really special moment. We’ve been working really hard for it and we’re ready. I am so ready, I can’t really express it.
What do you think you bring to the program and where have you seen your biggest improvements in your time at NDSU?
I think I will be able to bring a lot to the table as a stretch four. I was a guard for the majority of my time at SMU, but when I came here, Jory capitalized on that and had me working on my perimeter offense and defense. So now I get reps with the guards and with the posts in practice.
That is probably the biggest area where I did develop was my confidence in being an outside and inside threat. I’ve always been a post so that was always second nature to me. Being able to have the ball in my hands, drive and shoot from the outside was new and uncomfortable to me. We worked on that a lot last year and that is probably where I have improved the most. Being able to have that confidence in that part of my game will bring another aspect to the team.
That’s an interesting point because basketball is kind of becoming positionless. The term “stretch four” probably didn’t exist until the new millennium. How important is it to be adaptable as a player when the game is always changing?
The best thing that any basketball player can do is learn how to have a wide skillset. No matter how tall you are, no matter what position you are, you should develop ballhandling or you should always be working on your shot. It’s extremely important because if you can’t adapt or change, it is going to be hard or you’ll have limitations on you.
Last year, this program really found its footing again, especially in February and March. Where do you see this program going this season and beyond?
The goal will always be a Summit League championship and NCAA Tournament. Those are always going to be goals that everyone on this team has in the back of their head. No matter what we do, those are going to be the places we want to get to and what we’ll work for. I don’t see why we won’t be a contender for a Summit League championship this season. I am so confident in the turnaround that we have had, even this offseason.
I think it’s going to be hard to beat us this year which will make the game that much more fun. We’re going to have a team full of girls that are used to winning. I think winning games last year was an eye-opener for a lot of girls. We didn’t have to lose every game, we were capable of winning every game. That mindset is what we’re adopting this season. The idea that we are going into every game knowing that we are going to win. If we do take a loss here and there, that’s okay, but we are always going to have that mindset of going into any game knowing that we can win.