|Despite Augustana graduating its top six players from last season, the rest of the CCIW still finds itself chasing Dylan Sortillo and the Vikings.
Photo by Vicki Wassennhove, Augustana athletics
For the first time in his 36-year coaching career, Augustana head coach Grey Giovanine went into a season without any of his starting five from a year ago.
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The Vikings have responded with a 12-3 overall record and sit 5-1 atop the CCIW, and they returned to the D3hoops.com poll at No. 20 in the midst of a five-game winning streak.
“It’s due to the strength of our program; we’re always working on recruiting and developing our young players,” Giovanine said. “Those two things have allowed us to have the consistency we’ve had for years and helped us absorb the loss of last year’s players.”
Giovanine came into his 18th season with the program needing to replace the top six players in the Vikings’ rotation in points and minutes per game from a team that finished 29-2 and tied the most wins in school history along with the best record by a CCIW team since Division III was established.
Augustana’s top returning scorer junior Dylan Sortillo averaged 5.9 points last season in 17.3 minutes per game last season.
This season, Sortillo leads the team with 13.9 points per game.
“I’ve had to take on a different role than I did in the past couple years,” Sortillo said. “I’ve been ready for it, and the whole team has been ready for it. We’re a young team, and we were really excited coming into the year. With those older guys beating up on us in practice to help us get ready, it’s refreshing because it’s our time.”
In the offseason in late May, Augustana took a team-bonding trip to play in Spain and Italy, and Giovanine said his players competed well on the tour adjusting to new roles.
“The guys that had been with us did a good job I thought,” Giovanine said. “It was a good chance for them to step into new roles. They did that pretty well, so I came away from the international trip thinking we could be pretty competitive.”
Sortillo said the trip helped the team become better teammates, and the team’s work ethic increased in the offseason.
“During the trip, we all became really close,” Sortillo said. “Games in Spain and Italy really got that chemistry up quite a bit. We had guys stay for the summer and got after it. We like to say we attack every workout. People thought there would be drop off from last year, but we didn’t let that happen.”
Giovanine said a big factor in getting his players ready for in-game action is utilizing team’s junior varsity squad.
“One thing we do is value our junior varsity program,” Giovanine said. “A number of teams don’t have teams and make an effort and play against junior colleges and NAIA schools. We really work at helping those young guys not on varsity to develop through practice and in-game experience.”
Several players from previous JV teams have entered Augustana’s rotation at the varsity level this season.
Sophomore forward Pierson Wofford was named the MVP of last season’s JV team, and he has appeared in every game with seven starts, averaging 10.3 points per game.
Sophomore guard Nolan Ebel played on the junior varsity team a year ago and has started more than half the varsity games this season. He leads the team in steals, averages 10.6 points per game and shoots 92.3 percent from the free throw line.
Junior center A.J. Dollmeyer played a key role on the JV team and has started eight games this year.
In addition to players making their initial impressions at the varsity level, Giovanine said some of last year’s players have made a big jump despite the limited playing time.
“Dylan Sortillo and Jacob Johnston got a taste of varsity minutes last year, so they’ve been around one of the better team in the country the last couple years,” Giovanine said. “They really learned how to prepare and practice and compete. All those things were lessons they really learned, and it helps us with our younger guys.”
Sortillo said the adjustment to a more prominent role on the team has been an easy transition because of the team’s culture of winning.
“It’s one of those things that with a really strong program, we’ve been able to feel and see the culture the guys at Augustana created before us,” Sortillo said. “We really wanted to continue winning culture and put in the work.”
Augustana won its first four games and went through a 3-3 stretch, which knocked them out of the top 25. Since then, the Vikings have won five in a row, and Giovanine said the team’s improvement is because the young team has learned its roles.
“I think we’ve played better as the year has unfolded,” Giovanine said. “We’re a much different team today than we were in November and December. Hopefully we’re even better in February. You’ve got guys who have settled in to their roles and their expectations are clear. There is no substitute for experience, so when they log minutes, it only helps the confidence.”
Sortillo said the team is trending in the right direction and hopes short-term goals will turn into long-term success.
“Our short-term goals were to get better each and every day and come closer as a team, and myself and the other guys who have been around program know that doesn’t just happen,” Sortillo said. “Everybody all through the lineup has to play hard, and if we do that in the short term, maybe then we can get into long-term goals with championships.”
The Central region takes up eight spots in the most recent top 25 poll, including one exit and another returning to the rankings with a couple teams made significant jumps in the poll.
The WIAC kept its three teams in the mix, as UW-River Falls moved from seventh to fifth, and UW-Eau Claire dropped from 10th to 12th. UW-Whitewater slipped from No. 21 to No. 25.
There was a good amount of movement in the CCIW, as North Park skyrocketed to ninth after coming in ranked No. 18. Augustana returned to the rankings at No. 20, and Illinois Wesleyan slipped out of the Top 25 from No. 22.
St. Norbert moved up from ninth to seventh in the MWC, and Washington U. jumped nine spots from No. 20 to No. 11 from the UAA. Benedictine slid down to No. 19 from No. 14.
There were no new entrants into the women’s side of the top 25 rankings, and the three Central region teams did not move all that much in the past week.
From the WIAC, UW Oshkoh moved from No. 13 to No. 10, while UW-Whitewater moved up a spot to No. 21.
In the UAA, Washington U. dropped from ninth to 12th in the rankings.
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