Banquet closes emotional season

By Todd McMahon

For NIU’s women’s basketball program, Sunday evening was a time to reflect on yet another season filled with tremendous highs.

The theme of this year’s awards banquet was “A Breed Apart”—the same motto the Huskies used all along during their 24-6 campaign—and the festivities at Chick Evans Field House were indeed something different for those in attendance.

With a cast of former greats on hand, including Denise Dove, Tammy Hinchee, Dee Dee Jeske, Denise Lipnisky, Tracy Mondek and one-time assistant coach Sandy Schuster, it was time to pay tribute to an NIU squad that captured the inaugural Mid-Continent Conference regular-season and postseason championships, went undefeated at home for the first time in team history and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year.

An unprecedented video from NIU’s Media Services set the tone for what would follow in the awards presentations.

Trainers Andrea Asselta and Chris Koch gave the night a unique twist with their retiring of the water bottles used by NIU’s five seniors—Tiana Burkholder, Cindy Conner, Julie Gainer, Debbie Teske and Dianna Wingis.

Athletic Director Gerald O’Dell presented all team members with certificates in recognition of NIU’s third appearance in the NCAA tourney in the last four years.

Finally, head coach Jane Albright-Dieterle closed the hardware giveaways with the team’s individual awards, voted on by the coaching staff.

The Rebounding Excellence award, which went to redshirt Angela Lockett the two previous years, was given to Conner and Wingis.

Burkholder, who earned a starting spot this year, was voted Most Improved Player.

Teske, who sank 22 in a row from the free-throw line earlier in the year, was presented with the Free Throw Excellence Award.

With Mondek no longer eligible, Gainer gladly stepped in and took home the Academic Excellence Award with her 4.0 grade point average last semester.

Calling it a “tough choice,” Albright-Dieterle said her associates had to give the Defensive Excellence nod to the entire team.

Leslie Pottinger was appropriately recognized for her top-notch efforts off the bench as the sophomore garnered the Sixth Player Award and the Lisa Foss Desire and Determination Award.

Then there was E.C. Hill, who is expected to be the leader next season. The team’s top scorer (17.2 ppg) whisked away into the night with Best Offensive Player and Most Valuable Player accolades.