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August 4, 2009

2009 Season - Vikings look for repeat of recent success

It was quite a debut for Janelle Hester in 2008. In her first head coaching assignment at the collegiate level, the former University of Tennessee standout guided Augustana to a fine 23-12 overall record. The Vikings struggled a bit in the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin during the regular season but caught fire during the league tournament. After going 2-5 in the CCIW, Hester’s club entered the post-season as the number six seed.

In the first round the Vikings went on the road and upset third seeded Illinois Wesleyan in a 3-0 sweep. That was followed by a 3-1 victory over second seeded North Central in the semi-finals. Augustana dropped a 1-3 decision to CCIW champion Carthage in the championship round. It was the second consecutive second place finish in the conference tournament for the Vikings.

“I am really excited about the 2009 season,” said Hester, whose team notched the third highest victory total in school history with the 23 wins in 2008. “Our strong group of returning veterans will be helped greatly by an impressive incoming freshman class.”

One of the keys early in the season will be to find a new setter. Graduated senior Jaime Spolum will be significant loss because she was the school record holder in career assists (4,257) and was a three time all-conference performer.  There will be a spirited battle in the pre-season for a replacement. Junior Allison Bailey (Libertyville HS, Green Oaks, Ill.) had a very good spring and could have the inside track on the job. Sophomore Nicole Jones (Yorkville HS, Yorkville, Ill.) and freshmen Kelsey Mikula (Coal City HS, Coal City, Ill.) and Erica Nimrick (Cambridge HS, Cambridge, Ill.) will also be in the hunt.

“This group of setters is talented and eager to fill that spot,” said Hester. “It is going to be an interesting and exciting challenge to see who will step up. This is a tremendous opportunity for one of these young ladies to contribute to our team’s success.”

There will be plenty of weapons for whoever wins the setter’s spot. Senior Mallory Thelander (Evanston HS, Evanston, Ill.) has been a three year regular and will be a stalwart at the outside hitter’s position. She averaged 2.07 kills per game and was an all-tournament selection at the Central of Iowa Invitational. Junior Courtney Jungnickel (Naperville Central HS, Naperville, Ill.) has been a two year starter and was an all-conference pick for the second straight year in 2008. She won all-tournament recognition at the Wisconsin-Platteville Classic. Jungnickel led the team in kills with a 2.39 average and in digs at 3.01. She also topped the team in service aces with 49. She shared the team’s MVP award with Spolum.

Freshman Nicole Maertzig (Oswego HS, Oswego, Ill.) is extremely athletic and could be in the mix as well. Junior Jenna Loncar (Marist HS, Chicago, Ill.) saw action in 31 games in 2008 and averaged 1.10 kills. She is very versatile and will be used both as an outside and right side hitter.  Junior Jenna Luck (Hall Township HS, Spring Valley, Ill.) is a transfer and she will be counted on as an outside hitter.

The right side will belong to Loncar and freshman Allyson Martinez (Air Academy, Colorado Springs, Colo.). Senior Bridget Reich (Pleasant Valley HS, Bettendorf, Iowa) had knee surgery in the off-season and her status is up in the air. She played in 127 games last year and averaged 1.58 kills per game.

There will be new talent in the middle as junior Colleen Fitzpatrick (Reed-Custer HS, Custer Park, Ill.), sophomores Jessica Scott (Morrison HS, Morrison, Ill.) and Brianna Skeens (Vernon Hills HS, Libertyville, Ill.) and freshman Casey Kormel (Elburn, Ill.) will all be given long looks. None of those four have any appreciable varsity experience.

Senior Rachel Uhrig (Wheaton North HS, Winfield, Ill.) averaged 1.66 digs in 116 games last year and contributed 27 service aces. She currently ranks fifth on Augustana’s all-time list for career digs with 1,299. She will anchor the defense. Junior Erin Hollandsworth (Marian Catholic HS, Flossmoor, Ill.) averaged 1.80 digs in 15 games and she will see much more playing time this year. Sophomore Katie DeVore (Midland HS, Midland, Mich.) and freshman Shannon Slick (Hononegah HS, Roscoe, Ill.) will both be in the mix.

“The team is very excited about the possibilities this season,” said Hester. “Our key returnees not only bring experience but also great leadership qualities. I was impressed with the way the kids worked in the off-season and that hard work will pay off. We are in a great position to continue with the success that this program has achieved.”