Austin grad Gunderson finishing strong at St. Olaf

Connor Gunderson (No. 22) celebrates with his St. Olaf teammates after they won the MIAC tournament recently at St. Thomas University. -- Photo Provided

Connor Gunderson (No. 22) celebrates with his St. Olaf teammates after they won the MIAC tournament recently at St. Thomas University. — Photo Provided

When Austin grad Connor Gunderson arrived at St. Olaf College in Northfield four years ago, he made a vow that the school’s basketball program would improve.

Gunderson and his seven fellow senior teammates who he has played with for all four years, have made that vow come true. After taking second in the MIAC during the regular season, St. Olaf won its first MIAC Conference Tournament in school history and the Oles have been invited to play in the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament, where they will play Central College of Iowa Friday at 5 p.m. at the University of Wisconsin-Steven’s Point.

“We’ve been working hard for four years and hard work is paying off,” Gunderson said. “I knew when I got to St. Olaf that the basketball scene wasn’t as big as I wanted it to be. I think we’ve turned it into something good. It’s been everything I wanted.”

St. Olaf, which was ranked No. 5 in MIAC preseason polls, knocked off perennial power St. Thomas to win the MIAC tournament.

Gunderson said the Oles (22-5 overall) are a very close team and it’s transferred to the court. St. Olaf has the second best defense in Division III as it allows just 53 points per game.

Gunderson has improved his game in all aspects this season and he’s averaging 14.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals, while shooting 61 percent from the field, 43 percent on 3-pointers and 75 percent on free throws.

While he’s having a huge year at St. Olaf, Gunderson hasn’t lost track of the Austin Packers. He’s kept his eye on Austin and he’s hoping the boys basketball team has another state run in it.

“It’s awesome. I love giving my friends crap here about how Austin’s better than their high school team,” Gunderson said. “I expect them to get back to state and make a run. Those three guards, [Zach] Wessels, [Ajuda] Nywesh and [Bret] Lukes are really good.”

Gunderson has also looked back at Austin for another reason this season. He dedicated his senior season to Lauren Schwab, his AHS classmate who passed away last spring. Gunderson has had the inscription of the initials L.S. and a heart on his shoes for every game this season.

“She was one of my great friends and I thought I’d kind of make this season for her,” Gunderson said. “Every time I take the floor I think of Lauren, knowing she’s looking down on me helping me out on the court.”

Gunderson knows his time of playing organized basketball is winding down, but he still plans on playing casually after he’s done at St. Olaf.

“When it does come, it’ll be tough and sad,” he said. “But it’s time for something else and it’ll be nice to have a break. I think my body could use a break.”

Gunderson is majoring in Nursing at St. Olaf and plans to pursue a career in that field after he graduates.

St. Olaf’s game will be available to watch at http://athletics.uwsp.edu Friday.

 

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