After an up-and-down season, the Augustana Vikings ready themselves for the upcoming NSIC Championships next week and the NCAA Tournament in early March.
With an overall record of 14-12, a stark contrast to previous years’ success with a 34-2 record in 2015-16 and a 24-9 record in 2016-17, the Vikings have lost their past two games by 2 and 5 point margins, respectively. Head coach Tom Billeter attributes this season’s performance to the incorporation of new players and the changes that their addition brings to the court.
“We had so many new players that were learning the system,” Billeter said. “And having guys playing 20 to 25 minutes a game who hadn’t done that before. Even though the system was the same for them, the responsibility was new.”
Assistant coach Collin Authier still sees success amid the difficulty the team has faced.
“The ball doesn’t go in the hoop sometimes, and we can’t control that,” Authier said. “But I think that we did [well] in the things we could control.”
Seniors Marcus Asmus and Steven Schaefer played more minutes than in previous years, scoring 309 points and 328 points respectively.
“I’m very happy to see players like Marcus Asmus and Steven Schaefer get so many minutes, because they put their time in for three years and they practice every day,” Billeter said. “They played all throughout their career, but they didn’t start. They probably did twice as many minutes this year versus what they got in the previous years.”
This year, the team has three graduating seniors, with senior point guard Jordan Spencer among them. Spencer played the season while recovering from a knee injury, which Billeter said made the new players first practices a challenge.
“[Spencer] had a fairly major knee surgery in August, and he couldn’t start practicing until a week before the first game,” Billeter said. “He missed all of the fall, and he is the point guard, so the new guys didn’t get a chance to play with their point guard until later in the season.”
“It’s been a very up and down season for me,” Spencer said. “Both the injury and fighting adversity as a team have been an experience I’ve had to learn from throughout the season.”
Overall, this season has been a learning experience for veterans and new players, as well as the coaches.
“From the start, [the players] took me under their wing and made sure I was ready to meet coach Billeter’s expectations during practices and in games,” freshman Matthew Cartwright said. “I think this season has been a roller coaster filled with many ups and downs and with a lot of adversity, but, overall, my teammates and I have made some good memories and built relationships that will last a lifetime.”
Five freshmen will join the team next year, two from Minnesota and three from South Dakota.
“In terms of next year, there will be a lot of the same teaching experience, and a lot of youth,” Authier said.
However, the newness of the team is not considered an obstacle by the coaches.
“In terms of wins and losses, it might not be quite the year people were hoping for, but our team has played hard [and] played well,” Billeter said. “We never quit. I really enjoyed this year. I see our younger kids continuously getting better and I know we have a great group coming next year as well. We will be very young, but we will have very good talent replacing the talent that is leaving.”
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