TOLEDO, OHIO | Thursday evening Lauren Wicinski went to the Mid-American Conference volleyball awards banquet ready to cheer for her teammates' achievements. Little did she know, she would make history by winning the MAC Freshman of the Year, as well as MAC Player of the Year awards.
In the conference's 30-year history, never before has a freshman taken home both accolades.
"As a volleyball player everyone has their dreams and aspirations of how good they can be," NIU head coach Ray Gooden said. "Lauren for sure had a chance of being pretty special. She has gone out there and really made her mark in this conference, and the national scene. She's done some eye-opening things that have put our institution and conference in a pretty positive place right now."
The Geneva, Ill. native came to NIU as an All-American high school player just hoping to learn about the game and as she said before the season started, "not be the freshman who makes the mistakes."
Her mother Gina was a standout Huskie volleyball player from 1983-86, and was shocked at the accolades Lauren received, but was extremely proud of her achievements.
"I was screaming in my seat practically," Gina said of learning about her daughter's awards via text message. "So excited for her and the team. I was just shocked and happy...I don't think she had thought about [winning the award]."
Wicinski continued her player-of-the-year type performances into the MAC Tournament, tallying 64 kills during the weekend, 29 which came in the semifinal against Toledo to propel the Huskies into the championship match. She sits at 605 kills on the year with at least one more match to be played against Marquette. Wicinski has garnered attention on the national scene, ranking fifth in points (5.66), seventh in kills (4.79) and eighth in aces per set (0.58) as of Nov. 15 in the NCAA rankings.
But she was not alone in taking home awards for NIU. Junior setter Kristin Hoffman earned herself a spot among the MAC first-team all-conference players. With 50 kills of her own, Hoffman stands out as the leader of the Huskies, setting up the hitters. Hailing from Batavia, Ill., Hoffman ranks 17th nationally in assists per set (11.44). She has garnered 1,446 assists to rank her second in the MAC.
"Kristin ties it all together," Gooden said. "She does a really good job running our offense. She's able to find the hot hitters to put ourselves in a situation where we can be successful."
The Huskies lone senior, Maddie Hughes also took home a second-team all conference nod. In her final season as libero, the St. Charles native anchored the defense, being the player who kept everyone together, Gooden said.
"She's really had a special career at NIU," Gooden said. "She's been the glue and...she continues to impress. She does a really good job helping with our group."
Last season Hughes took home the MAC Defensive Player of the Year award and ranks fourth in the MAC in digs this season. Also garnering four MAC West Defensive Player of the Week awards in her tenure, she ranks second all-time in career digs for the Huskies with 2,216. This year, Hughes gathered 573 digs, nationally ranking her 97th in digs per set (4.51).