It’s no secret that building a playoff-bound team takes talent, good recruiting, and above all else a great deal of patience. It is also no secret that losing senior leaders to graduation is a cold reality of college sports, and when they happen to be conference all-stars, the notion of testing patience becomes heavily accented.
For Linfield’s women’s basketball team, it is players like Alex Christensen that make these inevitable growing pains sting just a little bit less.
The sophomore guard has made basketball a life-long commitment, having been involved with the sport since the first grade. “Soccer was another sport I played through high school, but I have been playing basketball for as long as I can remember,” Christensen said.
Christensen has started six of nine contests so far this season, and leads the Wildcats in assists with 26. She is also amongst the team leaders in steals (8) and rebounds (21), and shoots a team-high 27.8 percent from behind the arc (minimum five attempts). These impressive numbers, along with the fact that she is averaging more than 22 minutes per contest, suggest Christensen is comfortably settling in as one of the feature players in the program.
“I have complete confidence in her bringing the ball up the court, and this really helps to take the pressure off of me,” team captain Kaely Maltman explained. “She knows all of the plays really well, and she is very good at keeping everyone calm when she runs the point.”
When asked about her mindset Christensen replied, “I am definitely more offensively minded, and that fits in really well with the overall feel of this year’s team.”
While Linfield’s roster stretches thin in terms of upperclassmen, the ‘Cats are not the only team in the conference in that situation. Willamette and Pacific Lutheran are the other two schools besides Linfield with a sole senior on their squads, and others in the conference are not far behind. The greatest number of seniors on any single roster is three (Lewis & Clark, Pacific, Puget Sound and Whitworth), and the other two NWC programs - Whitman and George Fox - have two seniors apiece.
“I am more of a leader now, and I had some experience playing last season,” Christensen mentioned with regard to the fact that she played in all 25 games during the 2011-12 season. “This year, there are a lot of people looking up to me for advice.”
“From last year to this year she has worked really hard and has developed her jump shot,” Maltman said. “We want to get her the ball a lot this season and I am really proud of the way she has progressed.”
Head coach Robin Potera-Haskins has noticed the marked improvement in Christensen’s game as well, saying, “she is a versatile player and she worked really hard over the summer.”
The sophomore’s commitment to improve stems in part from being raised in an athletic family.
“My parents and brother were really influential when I was growing up,” Christensen said, adding, “all of them played, and watching them motivated me to keep working hard.”
Last season, virtually every headline contained the name “Owens,” referring to Gretchen Owens, a first team all-NWC selection in 2011-12. While Christensen learned a lot from playing alongside players like Owens and fellow 2012 graduate Brynna Fuller, this season’s freshmen never had that opportunity. Instead, it is Christensen the younger players look up to and rely on to set an example of leadership and instill the core values of the program.
“I really look up to Alex a lot, and I want to be able to play at the same level as her,” Tegan Grunwald said about Christensen’s positive influence. “She brings my confidence level up, and I am definitely more comfortable when we are both on the floor.”
When asked about the greatest skill Christensen brings to the table, Maltman didn’t hesitate to respond with, “work ethic. She is very encouraging to the younger girls and is always willing to help the freshmen.”
While it is Maltman and fellow sophomore Katelyn Henson who are leading the way in terms of scoring, Christensen recognizes that the chemistry and overall feel of the program has shifted slightly during her time here. “We have more depth this year which will give us a lot more looks both offensively and defensively,” Christensen responded when asked about the differences between last year’s team and this year’s. “Our goal is to be in the top four and play in the conference tournament, and I want to be able to help lead us to that.”
Grunwald, who also participates in soccer at Linfield, commented on the stability Christensen provides. “I know she will help tell me where to go on the floor and it’s nice to be able to rely on your point guard like that.”
Christensen is no stranger to change, as she cited having several different coaches while attending Hillsboro High School as being one of the most difficult obstacles she has had to overcome in her career. “I had three coaches in four years, and it was really tough without a set game plan,” Christensen said about her prep career.
While the horizon is still fairly distant for the physical education and health education double major, Christensen has ambitions to continue her studies beyond Linfield. “I definitely want to get my master’s in education, but I’m not sure where yet.”
Coach Potera-Haskins sees strong traits within the character of Christensen, and believes she can be a key factor in the advancement of the program over the next two seasons. “I expect her to keep developing and working on her game, and to become a complete player,” the third-year coach said. “Eventually, we want her to help take our program to a level of being a playoff contender.”
-- Evan O'Kelly '13