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Christianson has made RCTC women's team a notch above

The Rochester Community and Technical College women's basketball team, ranked No. 2 in the country, showed why on Wednesday as it rolled past No. 15 Riverland.

Olivia Christianson didn't get much attention from college basketball programs as a senior at Lyle/Pacelli High School.

It wasn’t that she lacked talent. Christianson, a tremendous blend of strength, speed, jumping ability and balance may go down as the best female athlete ever at Lyle.

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She played a big role for the Athletics as a sophomore, when L/P won the state basketball title. But it was hit hard by graduation after that, especially Christianson’s senior year when her team finished just 6-20.

Decidedly losing records have a tendency to turn college recruiters off, no matter how much an individual player stands out on them.

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Olivia Christianson Mug.jpg

All indications are that was the case with Christianson, who averaged 24 points, 8 rebounds and 4 steals her final season at L/P, but still drew scant interest from colleges.

“I think the reason we got her was that she was from Lyle (and the team struggled),” Rochester Community and Technical College second-year coach Jason Bonde said.

It has been Bonde’s tremendous gain that four-year Division II colleges didn’t give Christianson the credit she deserved as a high schooler. Because it was the Yellowjackets she wound up choosing, opting for the Division III junior college over a handful of Division III and NAIA four-year school offers.

That gain was on display in a major way Wednesday, as No. 2-ranked RCTC took on No. 15-ranked Riverland in the RCTC gymnasium.

With Christianson once again leading the way, affecting the game in every way, RCTC ran off with a dominating 67-48 win.

The 5-foot-9 Christianson put up her usual numbers: 21 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists. On the season, she’s averaging 19 points, 5 rebounds and 5 steals per game.

“She’s had triple-doubles for us this year, with one of those (double-figure totals) being in steals,” Bonde said. “I think she leads the entire country in steals.”

Christianson is not nearly the one-girl gang she was as a senior at L/P. She’s getting all kinds of help on a Yellowjackets team that is now 2-0 in the Minnesota College Athletic Conference and 9-4 overall. On Wednesday, Lewiston-Altura graduate and fellow standout sophomore Myia Ruzek was good for 18 points and eight rebounds. Danika Jones, an import from Utah, had 14 points. Kasson-Mantorville graduate Lexi Hugeback chipped in with nine points and 10 rebounds.

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When Ruzek became the first member of Bonde’s inaugural recruiting class, in 2020, he was thrilled. Ruzek had spent three years being one of the top players in the competitive Three Rivers Conference. That had Bonde in a celebratory mood.

But when Christianson also said yes shortly after, the guess is that Bonde went looking for a champagne bottle to uncork.

As big a get as Ruzek was, Christianson was even bigger. Both have more than lived up to expectations.

“Having Myia and Olivia in my first two years in this program, I know I’m really lucky,” Bonde said. “And with Olivia, she’s the best player in our league.”

And she might be the best player ever at RCTC, though former Rochester Lourdes star Anne Breland was a heck of a get all of those years ago.

As happy as Bonde is to have Christianson on his team, his sophomore star has been just as happy to be a part of this program.

It’s allowed her to stay close to her beloved family and home town of Lyle, where she commutes from during the school year. It’s also allowed her to be on a team where she’s connected immediately with teammates, many of whom she played against in high school.

Christianson has a huge appreciation for this 2021-22 Yellowjackets edition, and certainly enjoyed their connectedness Wednesday night against Riverland.

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“I think we made a lot of the right passes tonight; I love those little dishes,” Christianson said. “Sometimes we force those a little bit too much. But I love it when we can find each other.”

Christianson has a couple of things she wants to check off her to-do list before this winter is done. The first is for this team to advance to the national tournament. And not just that, but to win it.

The other is to figure out what she’s going to do next year. The plan for the ace student (3.8 cumulative grade-point average) is to continue with college, somewhere. Yet to be answered is if she’ll play basketball.

Bonde knows she’s more than capable of making a difference on a Division II four-year team. Now it’s a matter of finding out what offers come in.

“She’ll be a steal for anyone that gets her,” Bonde said.

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