Team captain Tobroxen reflects on time with St. Olaf men’s basketball
Following a convincing 88-75 victory over Sul Ross State in the first round of the NCAA DIII tournament, St. Olaf men’s basketball had its championship hopes dashed in a heartbreaking 74-68 loss against UW-Platteville the following day.
For team captain Robert Tobroxen ’18, however, getting an opportunity to return to such a big stage during his final season as an Ole was a highlight in and of itself. Following the team’s MIAC semifinal loss to Bethel one week prior, the experience almost never happened.
“Being the only senior in the locker room after that Bethel game … obviously tears were gonna start flowing, cause that could be it, you never know,” Tobroxen said. “I think a lot of people didn’t really think we had much of a chance at the time, but being the only captain and senior on the team, part of me had to hang on to the little bit of hope we had left. I had to try to keep the guys’ hopes a little bit up as much as possible. I just didn’t want to give up, because there’s was still a small chance, whatever that might be.”
Tobroxen maintained this optimism throughout the weekend, attempting to keep teammates’ spirit and hope alive in the face of dubious odds. The following Sunday night, he found himself shooting baskets until closing time at Skoglund, instinctively confident that the Oles weren’t finished. When the news broke Monday morning that St. Olaf earned a tournament bid, nobody was more elated than the Ole captain.
“Sunday night, I was looking up online what our chances might be, how other teams fared throughout the weekend,” Tobroxen said. “I found out we were looking pretty good actually. So Sunday night, I ended up texting a lot of the guys like, ‘hey, I’m gonna go down to the gym and start shooting again cause I think our season might be continuing.’ I think everybody else got excited come Monday and before we knew that we were going to make it cause I think a lot of us realized the same thing, that we had a good chance, we’re probably going to be in … Come Monday, we found out we were.”
The palpable excitement translated into a win in the first round, as the Oles went on an 18-2 run midway through the first half to take a permanent lead over the Lobos. Tobroxen posted 20 points while leading the team with eleven rebounds en route to his fifth double-double of the season. Nate Albers ’20 and Austin Korba ’19 joined their captain in igniting the offense, scoring 18 and 22 points, respectively. St. Olaf has now won three of its past four first round games in NCAA tournament play.
Though the victory was sweet, there was little time to celebrate, as the spark of offense that carried St. Olaf to victory less than 24 hours prior faded against the UW-Platteville in round two. Despite outperforming the Pioneers in shooting percentage, the Oles couldn’t muster the rebounding efficiency or free-throw opportunities of their previous performance.
For Tobroxen, however, starting and succeeding on the biggest stage in college basketball distinctly recontextualizes the end of the season in a way that finishing in MIAC play simply wouldn’t have managed. Instead of bitter disappointment wondering what could have been, following the Bethel semifinal loss, the Oles instead gained a tremendous opportunity to compete with the nation’s best.
“After Bethel, it was like, ‘we still have a chance, and I know how much this sucks right now,’ possibly being done and not ever getting that opportunity [to be in the tournament],” Tobroxen said. “Once we found out we had another opportunity, it was a lot of, ‘OK, I can’t let these final minutes and games go to waste, I gotta put everything I have out there.’ Once that final buzzer sounded on the second game that we lost, obviously it felt terrible cause we wanted to win the game, but at the same time I knew we had given it everything. We poured everything into this season and into the team. I just kind of had to step back a little and appreciate it.”
“It definitely changes the mindset of the season just cause we were able to make it that extra further step. Not many teams do. We were saying over the weekend that [other] teams were done two weeks ago at that time, so just the fact that we were playing still was awesome. It was a huge accomplishment in and of itself.”
One of two Oles to start all 28 games this season (Korba being the other), Tobroxen ends his career with St. Olaf as the epicenter of a team that succeeded by utilizing unselfish team play and staunch defense. Leading St. Olaf in blocks (27), steals (37) and field goal percentage (.533), the Ole captain and sole senior on the roster provided a source of consistency for a young team that gradually came into its own.
Despite all the impressive statistics, however, Tobroxen emphasized that growing as a leader both individually and for his team was the most valuable takeaway from the winter.
“It wasn’t just kind of, ‘OK I got me and my other partner here that’s a leader’… all the weight was on my shoulders,” Tobroxen said. “It’s helped shape my perspective on how to lead people and to make sure you have high moral from everybody on the team … you’re only as strong as your weakest link, so [it’s important to] make sure everybody is improving and getting better no matter what their role is.”
Moving forward, Tobroxen’s future with basketball remains uncertain, though he hopes to keep it a part of his life.
“I don’t think it’ll be with a full team structure,” Tobroxen said. “I’d definitely like to play with some of the other alumni that have come through, in a men’s league or something like that. But no plans to go overseas or anything like that.”