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Athletics The Scholar-Athlete

“The Smartest Athlete in the Nation”

Academic All-America Player of the Year Excels in the Classroom and on the Court

By Mark Moschetti | Photos by Andrew Towell and Luke Rutan

Suzanna OhlsonSuzanna Ohlsen makes a no-look pass during a game against Western Oregon on February 21, 2015.

The situation played out hundreds of times in four years: Suzanna Ohlsen ’15 would dribble the basketball up the floor, and survey the situation. One of her Seattle Pacific teammates was about to be on the receiving end of a pinpoint pass — and she was about to pick up another assist.

Maybe it was a laser-beam two-hander to Maddey Pflaumer or Hannah Rodrigues under the basket. Perhaps a nifty no-look to Betsy Kingma deep in the corner. Or a behind-the-back beauty to Aubree Callen.

But to hear the just-graduated point guard tell it, one of her biggest assists wasn’t a behind-the-back to a teammate

This assist was in the classroom, to her boyfriend ... and a fictional character named Chilly Willy, the not-so-fire-breathing dragon.

“He was in a children’s lit class, and the teacher said he was allowed to get ideas,” Ohlsen says. “I had my own classes going, but I couldn’t resist helping him out.”

Ohlsen, a 4.0 student whose biochemistry major was far removed from children’s literature, found herself helping with writing and drawing, and getting drawn into a story.

“My friends said, ‘You should try to get this published.’ So we have an agent in New York trying to help us out,” Ohlsen says. “Nothing may come of it. But it was kind of a fun thing.”

So was watching her perform during her four years as a Falcon.

This past season, Seattle Pacific made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011. But while Ohlsen was the one running the show — averaging 17.7 points, 3.9 assists, and 2.3 steals per game for the 22–7 Falcons — she was adamant that without fellow seniors Callen, Kingma, and Pflaumer, it wouldn’t have been nearly as successful of a show.

“There are some things the numbers don’t tell,” she says. “I’m surrounded by great teammates, and we’ve enabled ourselves to have a great season.”

With her academic and basketball skills, Ohlsen could have gone anywhere. She was recruited by Princeton and Harvard, and had taken official NCAA visits to Long Beach State, Seattle University, and Idaho.

Suzanna OhlsonShe was recognized at Undergraduate Commencement with the President's Citation, given to one graduating senior who exemplifies the mission and vision of the University.

On her visit to SPU, Ohlsen wasn’t expecting anything special.

“I thought it would be like a D1 school, where kids were nonchalant about recruits and didn’t really care — they were just there for basketball,” she says. “But when I came here, I could tell there was just something totally different about these girls. They really cared about each other. Coach [Julie Heisey] cared about us as well — not just as athletes, but as people.”

So she came, playing hard and studying harder.

“There’s a reason why she’s the smartest athlete in the nation,” Pflaumer says in reference to Ohlsen’s recent CoSIDA Academic All-America Player of the Year award for Division II. “From lapping me in the two-mile run to her leading the pack in Sergeant Mike’s conditioning, she never accepts anything less than her best.

“She works incredibly hard in the gym and in the classroom,” Pflaumer adds. “I remember her carrying around stacks of notecards and studying in the training room before big games.”

But what about that rare day when there was no basketball and no school? How would she spend it?

“I can’t remember the last time that was,” a laughing Ohlsen says. “OK: I would walk up to Queen Anne — assuming it was a sunny day — and have English breakfast tea. Then I would walk around Queen Anne, then play beach volleyball and sit in the sun at Golden Gardens.”

Or perhaps, having just turned 22, she might merely sit and ponder the future.

“I don’t know if there’s ever a time when I’m completely done with basketball,” says Ohlsen, already accepted into the University of Washington’s pharmacy school, but also pondering a chance to play hoops in Korea, her mother’s home country.

No matter what, that future is looming.

It’s one that will include more studies, some more assists — and maybe even another tale or two about Chilly Willy.