June 7, 2011
DeKALB, Ill. - Since 2005, Northern Illinois volleyball head coach Ray Gooden has sent three of his players overseas to expand the horizon of Huskie volleyball and the act has had its impact on the program, averaging just over 18 wins per season as opposed to the 15 wins the Huskies averaged from 2002-04.
This year, Gooden is doubling the total to six as three fortunate Huskies will fly over the big pond this summer: Sophomores Sarah Angelos and Lauren Wicinski and junior Mary Kurisch. The second-year duo will be heading to Pula, Croatia, for the seventh annual European Global Challenge on July 17-22 as members of the USA Volleyball A2 Junior National Team. After traveling to Brazil last year, Kurisch will head to China for the inaugural China-USA Challenge Invitational Tournament in Beijing and Tainjin on June 7-20 as a member of the Bring It Promotions USA Development Team to face top Chinese collegiate and club teams from Beijing and Veifeng City as well as the Chinese Youth National Team.
Following in the footsteps of those who had the overseas opportunities before her, Kurisch returned from Brazil a different player, as did Kate McCullagh (Italy in 2005), Meagan Schoenrock (Italy in 2007) and senior teammate Kristin Hoffman (Croatia in 2009).
"In getting an opportunity to do these types of things, all of our girls not only expand their volleyball experience overall, they help spread the NIU experience to other teams and literally other parts of the world," Gooden said. "For that, we are very thankful."
Following a freshman campaign in which she was basically thrown into the fire due to lack of middle blocker depth, the Wisconsin native held her own as the youngest member of the Bring It Promotions/USA Development Team in Brazil. When she came back to campus, she had a noticeable change in confidence and performance once preseason camp began. The result was an outstanding sophomore campaign as Kurisch annihilated her rookie numbers, netting 287 kills, 108 blocks, 62 digs and 17 aces. Her rookie line was 160 kills, 71 blocks, 30 digs and 0 aces. Her much-improved play in the middle was a large reason for NIU's highest win total (27) since 1998.
"Mary had the opportunity last year to go to Brazil and it helped expose her to different level of volleyball," said Gooden. "She picked up some great contacts and valuable experience along the way.
"This year, I hope she can keep developing a better understanding of her level of volleyball. She will get to work with a quality set of coaches and some of the group she is familiar with from last year. This group is going to China for the first time; it will definitely be a great chapter in her life. We look forward to her getting back and even better for the 2011 season."
Not only is Gooden hoping Kurisch can take another leap forward, he is looking for similar results from Angelos and Wicinski. Already the Mid-American Conference's first to claim the league's Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year honors in the same season, the next step for Wicinski could be uncharted territory for the program. And if Angelos, who led the 2010 Huskies in hitting percentage (.367) and ranked second in blocks (70), does the same, NIU will have one of, if not the, most formidable duos in the middle.
"Anytime our players have gone abroad they learn a lot about themselves," Gooden said. "This will be the first time that more than one Huskie will be on the same team. They will have a unique experience. Hopefully they will get a chance to use their experience together to help the team next year. I hope their experience will be something they can share, but I also hope they can learn things as individuals."
Among the details of each trip, Kurisch will be part of a team made up of 24 of the top collegiate players in the nation. She will get a tour of Beijing National Stadium (Birds Nest) and Olympic Village, visit the Great Wall, Forbidden City, shop at the Beijing Pear Market, and attend some cultural shows such as Chinese Gungfu (Martial Arts) & Acrobatics.
Angelos and Wicinski will participate in a three-day training camp with Great Britain's Senior Women's National Team, which is set to compete in the 2012 London Olympics, before heading to the 2011 European Global Challenge to face some of the world's top national, collegiate and club teams.
Follow the Huskies on their trips by coming back to NIUHuskies.com as Kurisch will be giving blog updates while Angelos and Wicinski will provide video updates.