Women’s basketball hasn’t exactly started the season with a bang, struggling to find its team chemistry on its way to a rocky 2-6 overall record, including a 0-1 mark in conference play after a 40+ point loss to Gustavus. Placing dead last in the MIAC with 51.1 points per game, over seven points below the next lowest total, the Oles simply haven’t coalesced into a high caliber contender quite yet.
However, context is crucial in this situation. The Oles are an extremely young team, featuring no seniors and only two juniors, and were largely expected to undergo a more developmental year before the season began. In spite of the down record, several bright spots have emerged to provide optimism for the near future, most notably Ella Skrien ’20, who continues to impress as a sophomore following a breakout rookie season last winter. Embracing a greater leadership role as a full-time starter in 2017, Skrien leads the Oles with 20 total steals and 1.8 assists per game while remaining the team’s primary threat beyond the three point line. During St. Olaf’s last two matchups against Gustavus and UW-Stout, Skrien has also picked up the pace on offense, scoring a team high 13 points in both contests and elevating her average points per game to 9.0, rapidly building toward eclipsing her mark of 9.4 from last year after a slow start.
Though things may initially appear bleak, Skrien’s development into a leader both on and off the court assists tremendously in providing the Oles some hope for the remainder of the 2017-2018 season and well into the future. If they can continue to gel as a team, expect gradually increasing marks in the win column throughout the winter.
Q: Describe some of your basketball background. How did you get into it initially and who are some role models or other athletes that pushed you forward?
A: Well, my mom played Division I basketball, so I’ve always looked up to her, and I’ve always played basketball since I was around eight. I guess now I look up to some WNBA players as role models, such as the Minnesota Lynx players who do really well.
Q: Is there anything in particular your mom taught you growing up involving basketball that you still carry with you on the court?
A: I think, more than skill wise, she taught me the importance of teams and who you play with, the things that you learn from basketball that aren’t necessarily about basketball, like relationships with coaches, teamwork, discipline and practice.
Q: What aspect of your game do you believe you’ve improved the most since last season? How did you go about working on that during the offseason?
A: I’ve really grown as a leader. We only had one senior last year, and this year we have none, so we’re a very young team. There were 10 freshman, I was one of 10 freshman last year, and now there are nine sophomores, so kind of having to step up in this leadership sense where there wasn’t a lot of leadership already, because that’s just how the team dynamic was. I’ve never been put in that position, so it was really challenging for me, but I think it was really good because it’s helped me grow as a leader on and off the court.
Q: How are you stepping into that leadership role more specifically, both on and off the court?
A: I’m learning a lot about leadership this year. There’s an Ole Leadership Academy that just started, and I’m a part of that, and we’re talking about a lot of these things, so basketball isn’t the only place that I’m growing as a leader. It’s kind of cool to see them [extracurriculars] all intertwine, especially having basketball as such a good core example where I’ve kind of grown into a leadership role.
I’ve learned the most about myself and the fact that there’s no one right way to be a leader. You just have to figure out individually how you’re going to be your most authentic self and grow upon the things you’re already good at to be an even better leader for the team. A big thing for me, since I don’t have authority over my team cause I’m the same age as most people, is pushing everyone to be a leader instead of trying to gain followers. We’re trying to make a whole team of leaders instead of just me trying to be a leader. Everyone’s working on it together.
Q: Has it helped your confidence at all on the court?
A: I think so. I definitely think I’ve become a more confident player in college, both from last year to this year and in general.
Q: What’s something you still want to improve individually, and how do you plan on going about it during your training?
A: I think what’s keeping us from winning more is gelling as a team, so I’m trying to figure out, both individually and as a team, what needs to click in order for us to win. Like, we’re super close to winning, but the same things keep happening, so trying to fix those things is important. I guess individually I’m trying to help the team chemistry bond by doing the best that I can and leading by example. Also, encouraging everyone to stay super positive about getting better.
Q: The team’s 2-6, so what adjustments does the team need to make? You mentioned chemistry, but also that the “same things keep happening,” so what are those things?
A: A lot of it is just that we are a very young team, and the lack of experience at a college level playing basketball is just self-evident. I think it’s just patience in the sense that we know it will eventually come, it just needs to click. There’s not a set way that you can make that happen, it’s just experience over time playing with each other and developing a sense for how people play and what they’re going to do. Figuring out our roles since we’re kind of all at the same level, which makes our team dynamic unique.