Northern Illinois volleyball’s historic season continues as freshman outside hitter Lauren Wicinski was welcomed into uncharted territory for the Mid-American Conference at the league’s annual awards banquet on Thursday night at Crowne Plaza Hotel.
The conference’s leader in points, kills and aces was named MAC Player of the Year, as voted on by the league’s head coaches, becoming the first rookie to garner the honor in the MAC’s 30-year volleyball history.
“Lauren’s had an amazing regular season,” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden of his second MAC Player of the Year during his nine-year NIU tenure. “She has been one of the top scorers in the conference, as well as one of the best servers. It was great to her have been rewarded for her accomplishments throughout the MAC season.”
Joining the Freshman of the Year on the All-MAC first team was junior setter Kristin Hoffman (Batavia, Ill./Batavia). Senior libero Maddie Hughes earned a spot on the All-MAC second team, giving NIU its second straight season with three All-MAC selections.
“It was really, really exciting [to win]. I didn’t really expect it,” Wicinski said. “I’m shocked. This means a lot to me and I’m really happy about it. I wouldn’t have been able to get to this point without the team, though. I am very thankful for the support from my teammates and the success that we’ve had so far as a team. We wouldn’t be where we are at without our coaches, Ray, (assistant coach) Dan (Pawlikowski) and (assistant coach) Coley (Pawlikowski). They work so hard with us on and off the court.”
Wicinski, who subsequently garnered a spot on the All-MAC Freshman Team, goes down in the NIU record book as the first to receive both honors as a rookie by a conference as well (NIU has also been members of the Midwestern Collegiate, Mid-Continent and North Star Conferences). She is the third Huskie to take home the MAC Player of the Year honor and first since Kate McCullagh did so in 2006. She is the fourth to grab Freshman of the Year, as Tera Lobdell last did it in 2001. Overall, Wicinski is the seventh in program history to win a conference Player of the Year award and fifth to get a Freshman of the Year nod.
The Geneva High School (Ill.) product came to DeKalb, Ill. as NIU’s first high school All-American. She also came in with a family legacy. Her mother, Gina (Graf), was a Huskie standout on the court from 1983-87 and ranks in the program’s top-15 in aces, kills, points, solo blocks and digs. Her father, Rob, was an outstanding linebacker on the NIU football team from 1981-85 and was a key performer on the 1983 California Bowl championship team.
Lauren has not disappointed. In her first weekend of collegiate competition, she won MAC Player of the Week (Aug. 30). She then went on to earn the honor an NIU-career-record four more times, including the last one to bookend the regular season. Along the way, Wicinski nabbed three all-invitational selections as she led the Huskies to first place finishes in each invitational, including grabbing the MVP honor of the Illinois-Chicago tournament.
Wicinski has been among the nation’s statistical leaders all season. As of Nov. 14, she ranks fifth in the country in points (5.65/set), seventh in kills (4.78/set) and eighth in aces (0.58/set), leading all freshman in each category. Additionally, she has already set the NIU freshman record for points (656), kills (556) and aces (67) in a season. In the program’s single season record book, her ace and kill totals rank third and fourth, respectively.
With a first team selection, Hoffman earned her first career All-MAC accolade. She picked up the third major honor of her career, as she was named to the 2010 ESPN/College Sports Information Directors of America Academic All-District 5 first team and 2009 Academic All-MAC selection. Hoffman currently ranks second in the MAC in assists (11.44/set), which is good for 17th in the nation.
“I think that [Kristin] has done a great job leading our offense, not only in setting players like Lauren, but distributing the offense to all our players,” Gooden said. “She’s had a really big hand in all of our success this year.”
Hughes makes the second team for the second straight year. The 2009 MAC Defensive Player of the Year ranks fourth in the MAC and 98th in the country in digs (4.51/set). With four MAC West Defensive Player of the Week awards under her belt, she ranks second all-time at NIU and fifth in MAC history with 2,148 career digs. Her 68 career aces also rank third on the NIU all-time list.
“Going hand in hand with our offense and our setting, in order to get to that point we need strong leadership and defense. Maddie has done an amazing job, not only has she done great individually, she’s been great with our team’s defense as well.”
The three honored Huskies were large factors as NIU earned a bye in the first round of the MAC Tournament for the second straight year and put up its highest win total (25) since 1998. The No. 4 seed Huskies (25-6, 11-5 MAC) play their quarterfinals match today against No. 5. Eastern Michigan (24-10, 10-6 MAC) at Toledo’s SeaGate Centre.