Coaches favor North Star affiliation

By Jeff Kirik

NIU coaches had only positive comments Wednesday after the women’s athletic program officially accepted an invititation to join the North Star Conference.

The NIU women’s basketball, volleyball, softball and tennis teams now will participate in conference play against Dayton, DePaul, Marquette, Notre Dame and Valparaiso.

“I’m ecstatic about the development of our being in a conference,” said women’s basketball coach Jane Albright. “We belong to something now. We could get an automatic bid (to the NCAA Tournament) this way. Instead of setting a goal to go 20-7, we can go for a conference championship.”

The conference does not offer a bid to the tournament now, but Albright said it should be given one soon.

“We have a very strong commitment to women’s basketball, and they want to be known as a basketball conference,” Albright said. “They know we want to be a successful program. We have rivalries now. We have ten games that mean more than the rest. It gives us something to shoot for.”

Volleyball coach Herb Summers said being in the league is an advantage.

“I think it’s good to be in a conference again. Being in a conference is helpful in setting some goals for the season, and it also helps give our athletes some recognition,” he said.

Albright said, “We can also have some individual recognition, like all-conference, instead of just NIU Player of the Week.”

North Star softball is different from the other conference sports because only three schools have teams in the sport. NIU coach Dee Abrahamsen still was positive about the move.

“It gives our players something to look forward to,” she said. “They can set the goal to be conference champions. Softball is a tournament-only format in the North Star, so that allows us to remain almost as an independent with scheduling.”

The tennis team competed in the 1986 NSC Women’s Tennis Championship and claimed second-place honors. Coach Patty Fick echoed her fellow coaches sentiments about the new conference affiliation.

“I think it’s a very positive thing for us,” she said. “I’m glad we’re going to be in the North Star. A conference is good as far as making goals, and it’s an easier process for us to NCAAs (the tournament).”

NIU will remain an independent in field hockey, gymnastics, swimming and diving, and golf because the conference does not offer competition in the sports.