Blue chip off the old block

Lauren Wicinski

Gina (Graf) Wicinski, a Huskie standout on the volleyball court from 1983 to 1986, is among the team’s all-time statistical leaders in one category after the next. But there’s a player on the court this fall who many suspect will eclipse those marks and rewrite the record book.

Wicinski couldn’t be more thrilled—and proud.

That’s because it is her daughter, freshman outside hitter Lauren Wicinski, who is tearing up the court.

“I would love for her to break them all,” Gina says of her personal records.

Lauren is one of the primary reasons the Huskies opened the season with 11 consecutive wins, easily the best start in team history.

At the UIC Invitational tournament, which the Huskies won, she took home MVP honors. After the first six weeks of the season, Lauren already had been named Mid-American Conference West Division Offensive Player of the Week four times — and counting. The most recent honor came Monday, Oct. 11.

Her dominance isn’t all that surprising, though, considering that Lauren earned All-American honors during her senior year at Geneva High School.

She also was blessed with the sports gene: Not only was her mom an NIU standout, but dad Rob was an all-conference Huskie linebacker.

Rob and Gina, in fact, first met during their playing days at a combined get-together for Huskie football and volleyball players.

“After that, I started going to volleyball matches and became a groupie,” laughs Rob, now a science teacher at Geneva High School and head coach of its varsity football team.

He and Gina, a school nurse, often have returned to NIU, and Lauren and her two younger sisters grew up accompanying their parents to DeKalb for volleyball and football games.

Still, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that Lauren would don the Huskie cardinal and black. A number of Division I universities had their sights set on the blue chip prospect, including Marquette, Loyola Marymount and Wichita State.

“We have all the NIU hardware, and it’s definitely a Huskie-flavored type of household,” Rob says. “But it was important to Gina and me that this would be Lauren’s decision. So we tried to downplay the NIU scene. It’s hard to, of course, when you’re proud of the university and you always want to represent, but Lauren had to make this decision on her own.”

NIU head coach Ray Gooden made the first scholarship offer to Lauren the summer after her sophomore year of high school, but she visited a number of other universities before making a decision.

“(Coach Gooden) knew our history and did a nice job of making sure it was not about us but rather about Lauren. That made an impression,” Gina says. “And the NIU facilities, compared to others we looked at, were just top notch.

“People always think you have to go far away,” she adds. “This is an amazing institution, and it’s right down the road.”

With aspirations of becoming an elementary school teacher, Lauren also knew she wanted to attend a university with a top education program. NIU certainly made that cut in that category. And the friendliness of Lauren’s future teammates cemented the deal.

“I just really liked the school and my teammates here,” Lauren says. “I also like how it’s close to home because otherwise it would be hard for my dad to come out to games during football season. Now he makes a lot of the games, probably more than when I was in high school. It’s easier for my mom and two sisters and grandma, too.”

Lauren also recognizes how special it is to be playing for her parents’ alma mater.

 “All along, my parents have been my role models,” she says. “It’s cool to make them proud at the university they played at and grew to love.

“The whole experience has been amazing,” she adds. “It’s crazy how much I love it here.”

by Tom Parisi

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