Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2011, 8:56 pm

Augie women hope to turn tables on CCIW predictions

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By Tom Johnston,

Photo: Todd Welvaert
Augustana Vikings basketball players, Natalie Runge, Elizabeth Phillips, Brianna Skeens, Kristina Howard and (kneeling) Dawn Kernich, and on media day at the college October 30, 2011.
Brianna Skeens and the seven other seniors on the Augustana women's basketball team have spent most of their college careers trying to scrape their way out of the bottom spot in the CCIW standings.

No matter how the season unfolds, it usually ends up being a slippery spiral down by the time injuries and other factors take their toll.

The Vikings have again been picked by league coaches to not be much of a factor in the league race, selected a distant eighth in the eight-team CCIW race.

"I think this is the year to surprise some people," said Skeens.

If there ever was a year for Coach Bobbi Endress to have her first winning season in six Augie campaigns and actually factor in the league race, this could be it. She returns a wealth of experience topped by four-year letterwinners Skeens, Dawn Kernich, Elizabeth Phillips, Natalie Runge and Kristina Howard.

The team also adds some young talent – freshmen Sam Johannsen (Davenport Assumption) and Shelby Whigham who are both on the mend from knee injuries -- who could factor in before the season is over.

"There's a senior confidence going on around here," said Endress. "We have eight seniors and every single one of them has at least one start (and a lot of minutes) under their belt, so they are very experienced. They have also been through a lot together – a lot of injuries, their roles have changed. They feel like they've been around the block. The underclassmen are picking up on that confidence and it's spreading through the program."

The block the seniors have been around has usually been a dark alley where they have been mugged. This season, though, Endress feels as if the parts are there to make a run, if they can stay away from injuries that decimated them last season. She is also hoping to continue some solid play that began at the end of last season (7-18, 3-11) that closed with those three league victories in their final seven games

"Once we figured things out, things started clicking and we started playing better and had a more collective effort," said Endress.

More depth and better balance will be key for the Vikings. All in the program are hoping that a switch to a new perimeter-oriented offense and continued pressure defense will also lead to a quicker pace that suits this bunch.

Seniors Whitney Miller (point guard) and Runge (wing), junior Gianna Pecora (off guard) and sophomore Molly Etheridge (wing) are four who are close to securing their starting spots, but Endress likes the way the rest of her team is fighting for playing time.

"We have those eight seniors who have stuck through it and that should help carry us far this season," said Skeens. "We want to do better than we did last season. Being above .500 would be great. We want to be stirring things up in the conference since everyone always places us as the underdog."

2011-12 Augie women's hoops

- Coaches: Bobbi Endress (26-99, 10-60 CCIW at Augustana; 62-118 overall in 7 years) begins her sixth season at the Viking helm. She is assisted by Mark Beinborn, Maurice Woods and Kendal Johnson (student assistant).

- Returning lettermen: Seniors: Kristina Howard (5-10, F, Aurora, Colo.); Dawn Kernich (5-7, G, Mount Olive); Whitney Miller (5-6, PG, Clinton, Iowa); Elizabeth Phillips (5-10, G/F, Grayslake North); Natalie Runge (5-10, F, O’Fallon, Mo.); Allison Scaggs (5-9, G, Petersburg PORTA); Brianna Skeens (5-10, F, Vernon Hills); Abbigale Staples (5-5, G, Sterling). Junior: Gianna Pecora (5-5, G, Downers Grove South). Sophomores: Jessica Baids (5-9, F, Carol Stream); Molly Etheridge (5-5, G, Normal Community); Chaney Tambling (5-8, F, Dwight ).

- Others to watch: Juniors: Devon Di Iorio (6-1, F, Glenbard South); Lauren Hoffman (5-9, G, Wheaton North). Sophomore: Amy Hicks (5-7, G, Rockford Christian). Freshmen: Kayla Boers (5-11, F, Oswego East); Jenna Dalton (6-0, F, Willowbrook); Sam Johannsen (5-7, G, Davenport Assumption); Valerie VanRoeyen (5-7, G, Libertyville); Shelby Whigham (5-11, F, Barrington).

- Schedule: NOVEMBER: 16 Monmouth, 7:30 p.m.; 19-20 at Presentation @ Colorado College Tip-Off (TBA, 2 p.m./3 p.m.); 26 Webster, 2 p.m.; 29 UW-Platteville, 7:30 p.m. DECEMBER: 2-3 at Washington University McWilliams Classic, TBA; 6 at Robert Morris-Springfield, 7 p.m.; 10 Central of Iowa, 5 p.m.; 13 Aurora, 7:30 p.m.; 17 at Dubuque, 2 p.m. JANUARY: 4 at *Millikin, 5:30 p.m.; 7 *North Central, 5:30 p.m.; 11 at *Illinois Wesleyan, 7:30 p.m.; 14 at *Elmhurst, 6 p.m.; 18 *North Park, 7:30 p.m.; 21 *Carthage, 5:30 p.m.; 25 *Wheaton, 7:30 p.m.; 28 *Millikin, 5:30 p.m. FEBRUARY: 1 *Illinois Wesleyan, 7:30 p.m.; 4 at *North Central, 5:30 p.m.; 8 at *North Park, 7:30 p.m.; 11 *Elmhurst, 5:30 p.m.; 18 at *Carthage, 5:30 p.m.; 21 at *Wheaton, 6 p.m.