When you live thousands of miles away from a team, you usually don’t plan on playing there, especially if it’s in another country.
Maren Austgulen, a senior on the Idaho women’s basketball team, probably never thought she was going to play basketball at Idaho because she is from Bergen, Norway.
Idaho coach Jon Newlee said he never actually traveled to Norway to recruit Austgulen.
However, after he watched game film on her and listened to people speak highly of her, Newlee was glad she chose the Vandals.
“I just went in and started recruiting her,” Newlee said. “She liked what she heard about Idaho and again, luckily for us, chose us.”
Austgulen, along with senior guard Stacey Barr, will play the last home game of her Vandal career against Idaho State at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Cowan Spectrum.
Austgulen said she hasn’t thought about how her Vandal career is winding down. She said she and her team have just been focused on winning.
“It’s been a rough year for us,” Austgulen said. “We haven’t really played up to our potential, so we’ve been kind of struggling with that.”
The Vandals are 12-15 overall and 6-10 in Big Sky Conference play heading into Thursday’s matchup with Weber State. They need to win their last two games and they need some help within the conference to clinch a berth in the Big Sky Tournament.
Although Idaho struggled at times this year, the last two seasons resulted in WAC Championships and NCAA Tournament appearances.
Newlee said Idaho wouldn’t have won the WAC titles without Austgulen’s play.
“I look back on Maren’s career and the huge contributions she made in the WAC Championships in Las Vegas both years,” Newlee said. “She hit 3s, she was scoring, she was defending and probably played her best basketball during that time.”
Austgulen said the first WAC title might be a little more special to her than the second.
“I think the first one was a little bit better, because no one expected us to win,” Austgulen said. “Our games were so close. I mean, we won on a buzzer beater in the quarterfinal. The semifinals were a struggle. Then, we pulled off the final. But last year, everyone really expected us to win, so when we won that one, everyone was more relieved I think.”
Austgulen faced adversity this year when she discovered she had mononucleosis, commonly referred to as “mono.”
“It wasn’t really how I wanted to end my senior season,” Austgulen said. “It’s nothing you can do about it really. I was just glad they figured out what it was because it made my face really swollen and my eyelids were huge, so I could hardly open my eyes.”
Austgulen also went through adversity during 2011 and 2012 when she was suspended for 34 games by the NCAA. She and the other players on her Norwegian club team had to pay dues to play, but since there was one player on the club team getting paid to play, the NCAA came down hard on her when she came to Idaho.
“The NCAA I thought made a horrendous ruling on her, making her sit out all those games,” Newlee said. “They’ve since changed those rules. That was hard for her, adjusting over here. That was rough, but then she had a great stretch during our two championships. We don’t win those two championships without her play.”
Because of her illness and other players on the team stepping up, Austgulen didn’t see as much playing time this season as she did last season. However, Newlee said she handles it well and doesn’t say a word about it.
“(She) goes out there, practices hard every single day and again, if I put her in this weekend, she’ll be ready to play without a doubt,” Newlee said. “She’ll be ready to go.”
Garrett Cabeza can be reached at email@example.com