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Women’s volleyball: Wicinski thrives at Michigan State

GenevHigh School graduate Lauren Wicinski (right) earned all-Big Ten Conference honors her first seasMichigan State. | Phocourtesy Michigan State University

Geneva High School graduate Lauren Wicinski (right) earned all-Big Ten Conference honors in her first season at Michigan State. | Photo courtesy of Michigan State University

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Updated: February 11, 2013 7:15AM

She knew what she was doing.

That’s the conclusion we can draw 10 months after Lauren Wicinski raised a lot of eyebrows last March when she decided to take a step up in competition and transfer to Michigan State after two standout seasons at Northern Illinois.

No Mid-American Conference volleyball player had ever had a better start to a college career than the Geneva product, whose parents Rob and Gina (Graf) played football and volleyball, respectively, at NIU. Wicinski, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter, earned MAC Player of the Year and American Volleyball Coaches Association All-America honors (honorable mention and third team) in her first two seasons.

So how did she fare in the higher profile program she sought this past fall?

She didn’t skip a beat, earning all-Big Ten Conference, AVCA All-Mideast Region and second team AVCA All-America honors after helping lead the Spartans to a 25-10 record and the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. It’s the furthest MSU has advanced since 2007.

Not bad for a team that wasn’t even picked to finish among the league’s top six teams in a preseason coaches poll.

“A lot of people considered us underdogs and didn’t know that we would come together like we did this year,” Michigan State coach Cathy George said after her team was eliminated by arch-rival Michigan 25-16, 26-24 and 26-24 in the regional semifinal. They had split a pair of regular season matches, each winning on the other’s court.

Their match at Michigan State was played before 5,059 fans, the third largest crowd in program history.

“I am proud with all the new players we have out there on the floor and the way that we worked together and the chemistry that pulled us together throughout the year,” George said. “We’ve made great strides and it’s not easy to lose this one. We will continue to build and get stronger.”

Wicinski, who ranked fourth in the nation in service aces per set with 0.63 and was seventh in the country in points per set with 5.33, will be a large part of it. She was also 16th in the nation in kills (4.43 per set) and set a single-season school record with her 81 aces.

The team’s libero, Kori Moster, earned honorable mention All-America.

“I think it speaks volumes about the level of our team and what we were able to accomplish this year,” George said. “Those two were instrumental in making that run happen.”

Home for the recent winter break, Wicinski helped out with practice at her old club, Kane County Juniors, and looked back on her season.

“It was surprisingly very, very smooth,” she said. “I thought going in it would be a lot harder coming together with the girls and the team. It was a very stressful situation, but they took it away. It couldn’t have been a better situation.”

Setting for Wicinski was junior Kristen Kelsay, a Wheaton St. Francis graduate.

“I had played her a few times in club ball but didn’t really know her,” Wicinski said. “We hit it off and ended up being like two sisters. We found out we had a lot in common since both our dads coach (high school) football.”

MSU beat four ranked teams, No. 4 Nebraska and No. 10 Minnesota in league play before opening the NCAA Tournament with a win over No. 18 San Diego followed by a win over No. 7 and defending national champ UCLA for the regional championship on the Bruins’ home court at Pauley Pavilion.

“It was very, very cool,” Wicinski said. “No one expected us to do well (last season) because we had lost five seniors.

“The Michigan rivalry was similar to Geneva-Batavia but at another level. (Playing in the Big Ten) was still volleyball, but to a different level. Everyone is more physical and the talent is endless and crazy. All the Penn State girls seemed to be 6-5, but you still have to bump, set and spike and play scrappy and aggressive.”

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