Finding a family in St. Olaf athletics
From first learning how to dribble and shoot a basketball in elementary school to being named the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) Co-Rookie of the Year in her first season at St. Olaf College, K’Lynn Lewis ’22 has had an incredible basketball journey that has taught her invaluable life skills and influenced her future aspirations.
Lewis first began playing basketball in the fourth grade, inspired by her friends who were already involved in the sport. She fell in love with the teamwork-oriented atmosphere and family-like dynamic of the sport. This inspired her to play on the varsity team throughout her career at Saint Agnes High School in St. Paul, where she eventually became the program’s all-time leading scorer.
As she began thinking about college, Lewis was looking for a level of competitiveness that had not been present in high school basketball. After being recruited to play basketball and further her academic career at St. Olaf, she was excited to learn from her fellow teammates, especially the upperclassmen who became mentors to her.
“High school [basketball] is not as competitive as college basketball,” says Lewis looking back. “I was looking forward to the competitiveness of college basketball and also just meeting other people and seeing their experiences, because when you’re a first-year coming in and there’s a senior on the team, you get to see how they translate basketball into real life.”
Early in her career, Lewis looked up to and emulated many of her older St. Olaf teammates because of their years of experience on a collegiate team, and one senior in particular, Makenna Ash ’19, served as a strong role model.
“[The women’s basketball team is] like another little family because you see each other every day at practice and talk to each other about everything,” she says. “Makenna Ash was like my mom on the team. We were always talking and laughing.”
[The women’s basketball team is] like another little family because you see each other every day at practice and talk to each other about everything.K’Lynn Lewis ’22
Yet, according to Lewis, this mentor experience is not exclusive to student-athletes and can be extended to all aspects of life at St. Olaf.
“College is a learning experience,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions and reach out to upperclassmen about anything. Everyone is very welcoming and will be more than happy to help. Also, take some time to yourself and have fun with friends.”
The welcoming atmosphere of the St. Olaf women’s basketball team helped Lewis’ play on the court immediately, as she was named the MIAC Co-Rookie of the Year and earned Honorable Mention All-MIAC honors after the 2018-19 season. As a result of her play, Lewis received an email in December 2019 inviting her to be part of the American International Sports Teams (AIST), which is a team of NCAA Division III student-athletes that would have traveled to Italy in the summer of 2020. However, because of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the trip has been put on hold until the summer of 2021. She’s looking forward to joining the team this coming summer.
“At first I was kind of nervous because I was going to be traveling to Italy by myself, and I don’t know anything about Italy. But I was really excited,” she says. “I thought it was a great opportunity to play basketball in a different country and also meet different people that are interested in the same sport that I play.”
Outside of basketball, Lewis is majoring in exercise science with a concentration in race and ethnic studies. Her love for basketball inspired her choice of major because of her personal experience as an athlete. Lewis is also interested in learning more about and potentially working in the NCAA, especially on issues of diversity. She is currently one of four student-athletes serving on the executive board for Oles Against Inequality (OAI), a new student organization on campus.
“As a first-year, I took the introduction to race and ethnic studies class,” Lewis says. “At first I took it just to get the General Education Requirement (GE) out of the way, but I really enjoyed the class and thought it was something I could really go into. I think it is always important to be aware of diversity and make sure everyone feels welcome. I also think it’s important that everyone has the support they need.”
Being a collegiate athlete, Lewis is susceptible to injury and has experienced several setbacks throughout the years. During the high school season when she was playing with the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), Lewis broke her hip, and most recently, she broke her somatic bone in three different places in St. Olaf’s third-to-last game of the 2019-20 season. While she hopes to avoid such injuries in the future, Lewis believes these experiences have taught her resiliency and perseverance, which motivates her to continue pursuing the sport.
Basketball teaches great lessons. You are going to have ups and downs, [but] you have to get stronger and keep going.K’Lynn Lewis ’22
“I’ve been playing basketball since fourth grade,” she says. “You get injured and you get back up. Basketball teaches great lessons. You are going to have ups and downs, [but] you have to get stronger and keep going.”
Lewis greatly enjoys the community at St. Olaf, especially at basketball games when fellow students are in the stands cheering, and she always knows there is a friendly face in the crowd since her mom attends every game.
“They’re so much fun,” she says. “I love when people come to cheer for us and when the parents are there. The students, I love their energy. It doesn’t matter if we are winning or losing, they’re always cheering and you can tell that everyone has a community. When you look up in the stands, you can see people high-fiving each other when someone scores. It’s just a lot of fun.”
Not only has Lewis made lifelong friendships through basketball, but the sport has provided her with important life skills that she applies both on and off the court. Some of the most important lessons that she has learned are active leadership, effective communication, and efficient time management.
“[Basketball] has changed me,” Lewis says. “I would say before I was very vocal, but not to the point where it was leadership, and with basketball, I see that my leadership skills have gotten better. My communication has gotten better. Also, just being able to lead the younger members of the team,” she says. “I think sports in general just teach what life is going to be like. It has taught me a lot, and I’m very thankful for being able to play sports, especially at the college level, because of the lessons they have taught me.”
In addition, the support of the community at St. Olaf, including students, professors, and coaches alike, has made her feel welcomed as both an athlete and academic student.
“I love the basketball community here and I just love St. Olaf College,” Lewis says. “Even if something happened and I wasn’t able to play basketball, I wouldn’t leave. This is a great academic school. I just love the community because everyone here is so nice.”