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DWU’s Christensen doing well after health scare

Dakota Wesleyan University head coach Jason Christensen applauds the Tigers as Dakota Wesleyan's Chesney Nagel (32) comes out for a break during a game against Saint Xavier University in the semifinals of the NAIA Division II National Tournament on March 12 at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Jason Christensen received a health scare last week, but just like he’s done with every opponent this season, he beat it.

The Dakota Wesleyan University women’s basketball coach underwent successful surgery on Nov. 29 at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, to fully remove tissue that was a cancer concern. On Monday, he received test results and pathology reports that indicate he is now cancer free, while he was released from Mayo Clinic on Tuesday.

“These last few weeks have been a whirlwind of emotions for me and my family,” Christensen told The Daily Republic. “I am extremely thankful to say I’m cancer free and I can’t wait to get back to doing what I love.”

Due to the surgery schedule, Christensen was forced to miss DWU’s 73-68 win over Briar Cliff on Nov. 28 and won’t coach against Mount Marty at 6 p.m. today in Yankton. The Tigers are ranked No. 2 nationally and remain undefeated at 10-0, one of four remaining undefeated teams in NAIA Division II.

According to DWU Athletic Director Jon Hart, Christensen is taking things day-by-day and could potentially travel with the team to Crete, Nebraska, as the Tigers face Doane on Saturday. However, his doctors recommended a return next week to help him ease back into things, though it also depends on “what his body will allow him to do,” per Hart.

The Tigers have two games next week, including a matchup against top-ranked Concordia on Dec. 15 at the Corn Palace.

“Anyone who knows Jason knows how tough he is and he can’t wait to get back to his team,” Hart said. “If he had it his way, it would be a lot sooner than later, but at this point, we feel like he’ll return at full capacity sometime later next week.”

Hart added the team has “rallied around Jason and his family.” In Christensen’s absence, his top assistant Celeste Beck has taken over head coaching duties. Assistant coach Tom Hoek, who is also DWU’s golf coach, and graduate assistant Jayne Stuart have also been instrumental in coaching the team over the past week.

“Celeste has been his top assistant the last few years, and she’s done a phenomenal job keeping things together while Jason has had some time away,” Hart said. “I’m really proud of her for how she’s handled things the last few weeks.”

Christensen, who is now in his ninth season as DWU’s head coach, entered this season with a record of 160-103 and is the winningest coach in Tigers’ women’s basketball history. A native of Mitchell, Christensen and the Tigers had the best season in school history last season, winning 32 games and the NAIA Division II national championship.

As of now, Hart said he doesn’t think Christensen will need further surgery.

“We want to continue to extend our thoughts and prayers to him and his family as he begins the road to recovery,” Hart said.

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