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Hanson locks down foes for Cavaliers

Aberdeen Roncalli’s Olivia Hanson, left, moves to the basket on a fast break as Herreid-Selby Area’s Bella Brandner, right, shouts in an attempt to distract Hanson’s shot during a game earlier this season at the Roncalli High School gym. Photo by John Davis taken 12/28/2021

Olivia Hanson brings a lot to the table, but she is better known for what she takes away.

The senior guard for Aberdeen Roncalli is a premier on-ball defender who does everything possible to make sure opponents are not able to produce big numbers.

More times than not, the 5-foot-7 dynamo is placed on the best players from opposing teams, and more times than not, she makes life miserable with her tenacious ball-hawking defense.

“When I play defense, all I think of is I want the ball and I want to win,” Hanson said. “I don’t think of ‘Oh, she’s going to dribble left, she’s going to dribble right.’ I seriously just get out and play defense, and I think it just comes down to working hard. I want to be the hardest worker out there.”

There is no denying that Hanson brings all-out hustle and desire to every game.

It’s a luxury that Roncalli coach Derek Larson has grown accustomed to the past few seasons.

“She has such a like ‘little bulldog’ mentality. She really flourishes when we do match her up with another good player from another team,” Larson said. “She does such a great job, whether it’s just keeping her girl in front of her or swiping at loose basketballs, diving on the floor. You’re never going to have to ask for a better effort from her. She’s definitely going to give that every night.”

It doesn’t matter if it’s a weekday scrimmage or a state championship contest, when Hanson steps on the floor, those around her better be prepared for a hard-nosed, physical battle.

Hanson said there are times she is not even aware of what she has done because her focus is so intent on going after the basketball.

“I don’t notice I’m doing it, which is the funny part, because I’ll be in practice sometimes and I’ll just come out of nowhere and then a teammate will come up behind me and she’ll be like, ‘You slapped me across the face’ and I had no idea,” Hanson said. “I really don’t have any idea I’m doing it.”

There is no denying that Hanson is a physical player. When push comes to shove, she will hold her own against anybody.

Hanson sometimes gets reminded by officials to keep her hands off the opponent she is guarding, but that’s just part of her aggressive nature.

Last year Hanson was a key factor in Roncalli’s run to the Class A state championship with her defensive prowess that harassed and hounded opponents along the way.

“The only ones I really remember is the state tournament. I guarded those girls with my life, like I didn’t leave their side,” Hanson said. “It comes to a point, where yes, I can get really annoying. I touch you a lot and I’m going to follow you everywhere.”

Hanson said that style prompted one of the frustrated opponents to complain to an official, ‘She’s been touching me the whole game!’

“It makes them mad,” Hanson said, “but at the same time it’s like I’m doing my job.”

That tenacity is a reason why Hanson seldom loses out on 50-50 balls.

She combines impeccable footwork with an unmatched desire to outwork opponents and do whatever she can to help her team succeed.

“She puts herself into really good positions. A lot of it comes down to a determination,” Larson said. “It’s almost like a game within itself to not let her girl score. I think she really just thrives in that. When a lot of people get up for ‘I scored 20 points tonight,’ I think she gets up for ‘How many can I hold this girl to or how good of a job can I do to help out the rest of my teammates?’ “

Make no mistake, Hanson takes her defense seriously.

In last year’s semifinal game, Hanson made two free throws with one second left to produce a dramatic one-point win over St. Thomas More. While she admits that was a special moment, it is not her first recollection of that contest.

“Yes, it was an awesome game and everything,” Hanson said, “but one thing that made me so mad was I guarded Haleigh Timmer for the majority of the night but I let her score 27 points, was it? That’s the defeating part. That makes me so mad.”

It’s that defensive mindset that helps to set Hanson apart from other defenders. She turns every possession into a personal mission to stop whoever is in front of her.

In short, she’s a big reason why Roncalli is one of the elite defensive basketball teams in the state, regardless of class.

Aberdeen Roncalli’s Olivia Hanson, center right, tries to get a rebound away from Sioux Falls Christian’s Maddie DeJong, left, during last year’s Class A State Tournament in Watertown. In on the play are the Cavaliers’ Elissa Hammrich (behind DeJong) and Madelyn Bragg, front right. In the background for the Chargers is Lexi Unruh. Photo by John Davis taken 3/11/2021

“A lot of her things are just natural,” Larson said. “She kind of brings herself to a different level that a lot of other kids maybe don’t have.”

Hanson is also a key contributor on offense. Some of the same qualities that make her good on defense also help on out on the other end of the floor.

“We’ve had nights where she’s scored plenty of points. She can shoot the basketball,” Larson said. “She does a lot of the things that don’t show up in the box score. She’s probably the best offensive rebounder we have. I think she just puts herself in good positions to get some of those offensive rebounds. After she does get the rebound, she does a pretty good job of finishing at the rim.”

However, Hanson understands and relishes her role on the team as a lockdown defender.

She sees the school records on the banners hanging up on the wall inside Roncalli Gym, nearly all of which are for offensive accomplishments. She is content to work behind the scenes and do what she can to help her teammates achieve some of those marks.

“I don’t need to hold any records,” she said, “but if I’m (a part of) getting my teammates records, that’s pretty cool.”

Hanson will likely graduate without having her name up on the record board, but that won’t mean she hasn’t left a lasting impact on the Roncalli program.

Again, it’s what she prevents that matters most to her.

“I know that for my position on the court, I don’t have to be the leading scorer. If I score two points a game, I will not care,” Hanson said. “It will be more like how many steals am I going to get, how many defensive stops am I going to get, am I going to make turnovers? That’s what I go into a game thinking. If I can go a whole entire game without scoring, I wouldn’t care, but if I had a good defensive night, then it’s a good game.”

Playing shutdown defense requires a lot of energy, hard work and determination, but Hanson is always up for the challenge.

“I actually don’t find it too hard, because I think I love it so much,” Hanson said. “I think it’s really easy to do something you love a lot.”

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