Augustana’s 2014-15 team will seek redemption for last year’s missteps.
After a school record 28-win season and an appearance in the national semifinals in 2012-13, the Vikings finished 16-12 and failed to make the NCAA tournament in 2013-14.
Senior guard Shaunteva Ashley leads a new-look Augustana team that features an abundance of underclassmen in hopes of a bounce-back season.
In the preseason NSIC Coaches’ Poll, the coaches picked the Vikings to finish fifth in the conference, and fourth in the South division. Augustana is in the unenviable position of sharing a division with three teams ranked in the top 10 in the Central Region: Wayne State College (No. 4), Minnesota State University-Mankato (No. 6) and Concordia University (No. 8).
Also ranked in the Central Region’s top 10 is Northern State University, the NSIC North Division’s preseason favorite. The Wolves slot in at No. 7.
The Vikings’ youthful 17-player roster features seven true freshmen, four redshirt freshmen, and three sophomores. Augustana head coach Dave Krauth said that leadership from the three upperclassmen will be key.
“This is the youngest team we’ve had in my 26 years of coaching at Augustana,” Krauth said. “Shaunteva does a great job with her play but also in a leadership role, which will be a big help for a lot of our young players.”
Last season, Ashley led the team in scoring and assists with 18.1 points and 4.1 assists per game en route to a first team all-NSIC selection.
“A big transition for a lot of freshmen is the pace of the game,” Ashley said.
She added that because the Vikings play an uptempo style, conditioning will be a focus leading up to the season opener.
However, with Augustana’s youth comes depth. Krauth believes that because his team features so many players capable of giving quality minutes, he will be able to employ a variety of lineups for different situations.
“I just hope we don’t get caught experimenting into January,” he said.
For Augustana to be successful this season, Krauth sees junior guard Sophie Kenney as needing to step into an expanded role. A season ago, Kenney averaged 2.3 PPG and 2.0 APG.
“Sophie is a very talented player,” Krauth said. “She’s battled the injury bug but now has a great opportunity to become an important player in our rotation.”
Krauth will also employ a young front court. Augustana’s only other upperclassman, junior forward Nicole Kerkhoff, leads a group of forwards and centers that is comprised of five freshmen, two redshirt freshmen and one sophomore.
Kerkhoff hopes to aid younger players by “really just leading by example from working hard during practice and lifts and encouraging the younger girls to work hard and get better during those times too.”
Solid play from Augustana’s bigs will be a necessity from the outset of the season.
The Vikings lost their top three rebounders from last year in Riley Nordgaard, Rhianna Gullickson and Katie Meister.
“Rebounding will be a big thing for us,” Kerkhoff said. We are capable of fulfilling those spots we lost last year, it’s just a matter of working hard for our spot, boxing out and wanting that rebound.”
One player who will be difficult to replace will be guard Emily Schulte, who graduated last spring. Schulte was the NSIC defensive player of the year last season, while scoring 13.9 PPG with 2.82 steals per game.
Replacing her defensive prowess is key as Augustana’s defense was its biggest weakness last season, according to Krauth.
“Emily was a ballhawk,” Krauth said. “I don’t know if you can replace her but the hope is that we will do a solid job as a group [defensively] and, in that way, fill that void.”
Augustana opens the season on Nov. 14 vs. Chadron State at home. The Vikings play three of their first four home games at the Elmen Center, but the remainder of their home contests will be played at the Sioux Falls Arena.