Feb. 13, 2012
DeKALB, Ill. - Sophomore Northern Illinois volleyball outside hitter Lauren Wicinski (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) spent the weekend in Colorado Springs, Colo., taking part in open tryouts for the U.S. Women's National Team, U.S. Women's National A2 Program and U.S. Women's Junior National Team at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
For Wicinski, the tryout was a resounding success and continues to expose her to some of the best volleyball in the world as she competed with the USA Volleyball A2 Junior National Team in Pula, Croatia, for the 2011 European Global Challenge last summer. Not only did she get to compete with the nation's finest, she more than held her own, which will give her a chance to perhaps compete nationally again while she's still at NIU or even after her Huskie playing career.
"It was pretty overwhelming having that many great players there," said Wicinski. "I recognized a lot of them and it was awesome to be there. It was nerve-racking because I didn't know what to expect but it was a cool experience. It was cool to be able to compete with them and find out that I can actually compete with them. It just makes you better knowing that you can go out there and do that.
"My favorite part was getting to play with girls I look up to. I was on Rachel Kidder's (First Team American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) All-American outside hitter for 2011 national champion UCLA) team. It was just cool to play with national competition like that."
Friday and Saturday's activities involved several different skill drills and a lot of work with the coaches, while Sunday was all about playing. The final day consisted of four 15-minute games and the two-time AVCA All-American put up numbers similar to her season averages as she helped her team go 3-1. She tallied 41 kills on 105 attempts with 12 errors for a .276 attack percentage and 0.39 kills per attempt rate - she hit .302 with a 0.43 kills per attempt rate in 2011. She also racked up 54 total points, 18 digs, nine aces, and four solo blocks.
"Saturday, she was in one of the higher skill groups, which was good because she got to compete with a lot of the better Big Ten players," said NIU Assistant Coach Dan Pawlikowski, who accompanied Wicinski on the trip and helped run the tryout. "She played really well against a lot of the players out there. She was scoring the ball well, passing the ball well, and served effectively as well. I heard a number of comments from other court coaches and college coaches out there on how good of an all-around player she was. A lot of people were pleasantly surprised at some of the things she could do, especially defensively.
"On Sunday, she was one of the top point scorers for her team. All in all, I thought it was a very good experience for her and she represented NIU very well."
With a short time to reflect, merely hours after returning to campus, Wicinski has a change in motivation.
"This is where these girls are and I want to be there," Wicinski said. "I want to be on a national, high-caliber team like this. This experience made me comeback and realize that I want to be there and be the best that I can.
"Every time I'm in the weight room, every time I'm doing reps in the gym, every time I'm doing sprints, this is going to be my motivation. Having an experience like I just had and seeing a tangible example of where hard work can get you really motivates me to keep getting better. I hope I can do this again and bring some teammates with next time."
Considering the facts that in only her first two years at NIU she has already led the Huskies to the NCAA Tournament, twice led the Huskies to the Mid-American Conference Tournament championship match, and twice been named an AVCA All-American and MAC Player of the Year, her newfound motivation bodes well for the future of the NIU volleyball program.
The U.S. Women's National Team program held the tryout for players who have concluded their college eligibility and who wish to be invited to be a member of the U.S. Women's Volleyball National Team on a full-time basis. The program could begin as early as the spring of 2012, or when an athlete's scholastic or professional club season has concluded. Also considered for training with the U.S. Women's National Team will be athletes who have remaining college eligibility; however, their participation will begin in mid-May or when their scholastic calendar ends for 2012.
Athletes in college and with collegiate eligibility remaining for the 2012 collegiate season not selected to join the U.S. Women's National Team may be invited to participate with the U.S. Women's Senior A2 program. The program is scheduled to take place in Columbus, Ohio, from June 26 through July 5. A projected 48 athletes will be invited to participate in the program, which will include training and competing at the USA Volleyball Girls' Junior National Championships (GJNC) from July 1-4.
Of the 207 tryout participants who represented 73 different colleges were 55 outside hitters, 49 middle blockers, 44 liberos, 37 setters and 22 opposites. The 2012 tryouts were open to current college-age athletes and older. Selections will be made in the next couple weeks.