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ISSUE 119 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/24/2006

Changing of the guard

By Ryan Maus
Sports Editor

Friday, February 24, 2006

If you were one of the hundreds of globetrotting St. Olaf students this January, you no doubt found it reassuring to find that nearly everything on “The Hill” had remained virtually unchanged in your absence.

For fans of the St. Olaf women’s basketball team, however, January produced an unexpected surprise – and a welcome one at that.

Paige Bromen ’08, a native of Stillwater, Minn., became the most recent addition to the St. Olaf athletic program when she transferred from Furman University (located in Greenville, S.C.) in January. One of just nine new students admitted into St. Olaf before Interim, Bromen had an immediate impact on her new team. The Ole guard was a key catalyst in the team’s strong 6-2 finish, averaging 8.8 points and 21.6 minutes per game during that span for a team that had lost seven of eight games during a stretch earlier this season.

The real surprise is that Bromen had not played basketball competitively since her high school days at Stillwater. Instead, the sophomore had been an NCAA Division I golfer for the past year and a half, sinking putts for the Paladins of Furman University as a walk-on athlete at one of the country’s premier women’s golf programs.

“Growing up, it had always been a dream of mine to play a Division I sport,” Bromen said about her initial college choice. “I wanted to find the best golf program combined with the best academics, and at the time, Furman was rated top-20 in the country [academically] and had an All-American golf program. My other possibility was Carleton, oddly enough, but I just decided that I would see how good I could get at golf.”

After making the team as a freshman (she was the squad’s lone walk-on), Bromen practiced nearly year-round and participated in two tournaments in her two seasons, one in 2004 and another last fall. While her scores indicated significant improvement, the rigors of being a Division I athlete far from home finally got to Bromen.

“I got a little burnt out, just by focusing so much on golf. Even though they kept saying that academics came first, in reality, golf came first – you did your homework when you had the chance,” Bromen said. “I was also 1,200 miles away from home, which played a big role. We had to stay on campus during most breaks [for golf], so I wasn’t able to see my family very much.

“The time commitment was so great that you needed to have your whole heart into it.”

An outstanding student who was also accepted by St. Olaf out of high school, Bromen was initially told that she would not be able to transfer until September because of space restrictions. However, Bromen was “ecstatic” to learn last Thanksgiving Break that she would be allowed to attend her new school nine months ahead of schedule.

So far, Bromen has thoroughly enjoyed her overall experience at St. Olaf.

“It was a little weird coming in, since I was joining the [basketball] team in mid-season,” she said. “But everyone has been so nice. People took me to my first class, showed me around the campus – everyone here was really friendly.”

But even Bromen, a two-sport athlete who will anchor the women’s golf team this spring, was surprised at how swiftly she was able to regain her old form.

“I didn’t know how quickly I would get my shot back and how quickly I would learn the plays,” said the Ole guard. “But things have definitely worked out better than expected.”

Bromen is just one of many recent transfer students for whom athletics has played a key role. Of the 84 transfer students allowed into St. Olaf over the past two years, approximately 26 (nearly 32 percent) currently participate in a varsity sport, higher than the campus-wide average of about 20 percent.

Another “high-profile” Ole transfer athlete is women’s soccer standout Kaia Knutson ’06, who gave up a full scholarship at Division I Tulsa University to come to St. Olaf in the fall of 2003. Knutson, who also participates in track and field during the winter and spring, expressed sentiments similar to Bromen’s about the nature of Division I athletics.

“Soccer was a lot more intense at Tulsa,” Knutson said. “You could never miss practice for any reason, it was always soccer first,”

Despite earning a starting job as a freshman with the Golden Hurricanes, Knutson soon realized that big-time college athletics were not all they were cracked up to be.

“I realized I would not be playing pro soccer, so I started to think about what I would do afterward,” Knutson said. “It was really tough to be pre-med at Tulsa, because it was always soccer first.”

Steven Wood ’07, a two-sport standout who transferred from Dakota-Wesleyan University last fall, said a higher power, along with an caring coaching staff, were the main reasons he decided he changed schools.

“In the end, I felt like God wanted me to be here. [Wrestling] coach [Sean] Ahrar and [football] coach [Chris] Meidt are really good coaches, and good men, too. It's a lot of fun to be on those team,” Wood said.

These transfer athletes may have a variety of different reasons for choosing St. Olaf, but one thing is certain – their teammates, coaches and fans are all glad to have these players donning the black and gold.

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