Waiting game over for Gophers’ Olson

by Ryan Schuster

Erin Olson has become accustomed to watching basketball games from the sidelines.
From her familiar perch in the stands last year and her current spot on the bench this season, the 5-foot-9 sophomore Gophers women’s basketball guard has seen a total of 19 home games at the Sports Pavilion since transferring from Wyoming during the 1996-97 season.
“It was hard,” Olson said. “It was an adjustment phase getting back into just being a student again. It was definitely hard to be on the bench and not to be able to help when the team struggled.”
NCAA rules state that a player must sit out a year after transferring to a new school. Olson had hoped to start playing earlier this year, but it didn’t happen.
Minnesota appealed to the Big Ten on Dec. 13 to reinstate Olson’s eligibility at the end of fall quarter instead of at the beginning of winter quarter, as conference rules dictate. Under NCAA rules Olson would have been able to compete during winter break, but Big Ten rules specify that athletes have to wait until the start of the next academic quarter.
“I didn’t have much to do with it. The athletic department took care of most of the stuff,” Olson said. “So, it was basically just a waiting game.”
The appeal was denied, meaning Friday night’s game at Illinois will be Olson’s first in a Gophers uniform.
Olson played in 27 games as a freshman at Wyoming during the 1995-96 season and averaged 7.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists a game. She also started 15 games and led the team in assists 11 times.
She decided to transfer to Minnesota because she got burned out at Wyoming and wanted a change of scenery.
“I needed a change,” Olson said. “Basketball wasn’t as fun as I wanted it to be. I didn’t feel like I was getting what I wanted to get out of it. So, I looked for a change someplace where basketball would be something that I would enjoy.”
Olson is happy so far at Minnesota but doesn’t consider her decision to attend Wyoming an error in judgement.
“I learned a lot from my freshman year,” Olson said. “I matured a lot and grew up as a person and as a player and learned a lot about what I needed to do to be a competitive basketball player at this level. I wouldn’t say it was a mistake, but it was a definite learning experience.”
Whatever the reason, Gophers coach Cheryl Littlejohn, whose team has been ravaged by injuries at the guard position this year, is happy to finally have Olson in the lineup.
“I think she’s capable of being a scorer for us and running the team from a point guard perspective,” Littlejohn said. “She sees the floor well and she’s a good leader.”
The 20-year-old native of Mitchell, S.D., doesn’t much care what her role with the team is this weekend, as long as she gets to play.
“Right now, I just want to do whatever I can,” Olson said. “If they need rebounding, I’ll rebound. If they need somebody for assists or for points, whatever. I just want to be able to help. Whether it’s just being a cheerleader on the bench when they’re on the road, I really don’t care. I’m just happy to be traveling and happy to be a true member of the team.”