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November 5, 2009

2009-2010 Season - Youthful experience is key for 2009-10 season

ROCK ISLAND, Ill. – Fourth year head coach Bobbi Endress is excited about the prospect of this year’s squad as she heads into the 2009-10 campaign.  The Vikings bring back a slew of young players who gained valuable experience last season and also welcome in a freshman class that should make significant contributions.  “I am looking forward to it.  I cannot wait to get started,” said Endress.

The Vikings finished 1-13 in the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin and 3-22 overall a year ago, but Endress has reason to be optimistic after several close losses last season.  “We were in a lot of games last year and feel that our guard play has improved which will help us down the stretch of close games,” she said.  “We are still a young team with 16 players that are either freshmen or sophomores, but we also have some experience in our youth from last season.”

Augustana brings back several key performers from last season, including senior guard Kristen Fox (Ottawa HS, Ottawa, Ill.).  Fox led the squad in scoring a year ago with an 11.2 average and started 18 contests.  “She has made dramatic changes in terms of work ethic, focus, and commitment level to the program,” said Endress.  Fox led the team in minutes played, logging almost 31 minutes per game a year ago, and will again be relied upon this season.  “So far, the off season work Kristen put in is showing on the court, and she is being a leader in many ways for our younger players,” said Endress.

Sophomore Natalie Runge (St. Dominic HS, O’Fallon, Mo.) is also back after starting all 25 games as a freshman.  “A year of experience as a freshman starter will do her a world of good this year,” said Endress.  Runge was second on the team with a 10.7 scoring average and led the team with a 49.7 percent field goal percentage from the field.  “Natalie put in a lot of work in the off season and is now stronger and finishing better around the basket,” said Endress.

The sophomore class is also bolstered with the presence of Kristina Howard (Cherokee Trail HS, Aurora, Colo.), who finished with a 5.1 rebounds per game average in 18.9 minutes of action per contest.  “Kristina has always been a solid rebounder, but has also developed a consistent jump shot,” said Endress.  Howard averaged 4.2 points a year ago, but will be counted on to provide more offense this season.  “Adding her to the scoring mix will help us a lot,” said Endress.

Junior Dawn Kernich (Mt. Olive HS, Mt. Olive, Ill.) is also showing improvement in her third season with the Vikings and has “raised her game to another level,” said Endress.  Kernich played in 22 games as a reserve as a sophomore, scoring 44 points and snaring 33 rebounds.  “She is doing things on the defensive end that she could not do last year.  Dawn is a better shooter and emerging as a vocal leader,” said Endress.

Endress is also confident in the freshman class, expecting solid contributions from a group that “has done a good job so far.”  “I am very pleased with this class,” said Endress.  Kristin Warnken (Centaurus HS, Erie, Colo.) and Kelsey Mikula (Coal City HS, Coal City, Ill.) will share the load of the point guard responsibilities.  “Both of them shoot well and see the floor well,” said Endress.  “They are both solid defenders,” she added.  Dori Gills (Holy Family HS, Boulder, Colo.) should also make an impact in her first campaign as a Viking as she has been “in the gym constantly working on her game,” said Endress.  “Dori gets to the basket very well and should be a strong player for us,” she added.  Gianna Pecora (Downers Grove South HS, Darien, Ill.) will also contribute as a “gutsy player who gets to the basket,” said Endress.

Augustana will tackle a strenuous schedule, beginning with a November 15 match-up at Washington University in St. Louis, the pre-season No. 1 team in the nation in some polls.  “It will help us prepare for our conference games by playing against this caliber of a program in our first game,” said Endress.  “We will quickly find out where we are at and then can determine what we need to work on,” she added.  The Vikings will follow that trip up with a pair of road games in Colorado against Colorado College and Piedmont, a nice homecoming trip for the three members of the team from Colorado.  The home opener for the Blue & Gold will be on November 28 against Webster University.

The College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin will be a tough conference yet again this season, according to Endress.  “Illinois Wesleyan has proven themselves as the team to beat in recent years, and I also think Elmhurst is much improved,” she said.  While the CCIW pre-season coaches poll has the Vikings picked to finish seventh, Endress feels that the team has a shot at the No. 4 spot for the CCIW Tournament.  “Our sights are set high.  We are looking to improve over the course of the season,” she said.

“This is the deepest team we have had in my time at Augustana,” said Endress.  “The basketball I.Q. gets better every year.  Our guard play is much improved with three different players capable of playing the point and five players that can handle the 2 and 3 spots effectively,” she said.  “We are still young, but continuing to grow, and should have a successful season,” said Endress.

Story written by Assistant Sports Information Director Adam Strand