The Northern Illinois women’s basketball program received three National Letters of Intent for the 2012-13 season on Wednesday’s signing day from forward McKenzie Hoelmenn (Lakeville, Minn./Lakeville North), guard Alexis Lindstrom (Howards Grove, Wis./Howards Grove), and forward Nichole Wittman (Hutchinson, Minn./Hutchinson).
Second-year NIU head coach Kathi Bennett had plenty of time to recruit the northerly trio and feels that they all really embody her signature defensive style and mentality.
“I think [their readiness to enter the program] is at an all-time high because we had more time in our second year to recruit the kids that fit our system,” Bennett said. “I really got to know them and really had a chance to evaluate and build a relationship and find out if they do fit. They came down to a couple of practices and I think this group really gets what we’re about — and I think that that’s incredibly exciting.
“It’s just neat knowing how much they want to be a part of building something special. The recruiting process was fun because of their personalities. The thing that sticks out is that they are great teammates. I watched them play in AAU and high school, and they really, really got along with each other when they were here on their visits, which is exciting.”
Hoelmenn comes in as the most highly-touted of the group as Max Preps has her ranked as the No. 3 player in Minnesota and No. 87 player in the country. Standing at 6’2″, the three-year varsity letterwinner led Lakeville North to a 56-2 record and back-to-back South Suburban Conference championships over the past two years. Scoring 197 points in 31 games as a junior, Hoelmenn was named an all-conference honorable mention performer. As a sophomore, she led the Panthers to a perfect 32-0 record and state championship.
“Mackenzie, she has size, strength and energy, and wants to play the low post,” said Bennett. “Those are rare; you don’t find them. If you have Nichole, then you have the opposite in Mackenzie, who just loves to battle inside, and she’s a defense-first kid too. She plays harder on the defensive end than she does offensively, and she’s one of the hardest working kids in the low block that I’ve seen in a while.”
Lindstrom is ranked as Max Preps’ No. 133 player in Wisconsin and is the most decorated of the three. Last season, she led the Central Lakeshore Conference in scoring (17.6 PPG), assists (3.2 APG), and steals (4.6 SPG) to earn The Review first team all-conference, Associated Press all-state honorable mention, Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association D4 all-state first team, first team all-area, and all-area player of the year honors. A three-year varsity letterwinner for Howards Grove, Lindstrom averaged 13.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 3.7 steals per game as a sophomore, earning WBCA D4 all-state honorable mention recognition. As a freshman, the 5’7″ guard was an all-conference honorable mention after averaging 4.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 2.3 steals per game.
“I think Alexis is really underrated, not a lot of people know of her,” said Bennett. “She’s one of the scrappiest guards I saw this summer. She’s got a change of pace, which I think is really exciting. She’s a gym rat; she wants to get better. She can shoot off the dribble but also set, kick out, and shoot the three. I can’t wait to get her here just because of how heady she is.”
Wittman is ranked by Max Preps as the No. 41 player in Minnesota and led Hutchinson to a 36-6 record over the last two seasons. During the 2010-11 campaign, the 6’0″ three-year varsity letterwinner averaged 11.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game to garner all-conference and all-area accolades from the Hutchinson Leader.
“Nichole shoots the three really well,” Bennett said. “She’s 6’0″ and can bang inside, but she’s going to help us stretch defenses by her ability to shoot the three and handle the ball. She’s a big that has guard skills and great size. Her frame is only going to get stronger and better, which is really exciting. She was the first to commit and just so badly wanted to be a Huskie that she went after recruiting the others. I thought that was something that was really exciting.”
The Huskies open the regular season at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13, on the road against Loyola Chicago. NIU’s first home game is Wednesday, Nov. 16, versus Western Illinois at 7 p.m.
Single game tickets and season ticket packages are available online or by calling (815) 753-6800.
For more information on NIU women’s basketball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.