As exceedingly well as everything went on the volleyball court for Lauren Wicinski her first two years of college, the beneath-the-surface elements of her college experience were nowhere near as rosy.
That led the former Gen-eva multi-sport standout to an emotionally draining decision to transfer from the Northern Illinois women’s volleyball program and a considerably more pleasant choice of Michigan State as her next destination, a decision Wicinski finalized this weekend.
“It’s been hard,” Wicinski said Sunday. “Hard, emotional and stressful for sure. It’s just been pretty crazy. I never thought I’d be back in this process at all.”
Wicinski earned Mid-American Conference Player of the Year honors in each of her two seasons with the Huskies, becoming the first freshman in conference history to snare that award. But despite the mountains of accolades in DeKalb – including leading NIU to an NCAA tournament berth last fall as a sophomore – the 19-year-old outside hitter craved a fresh start.
The move was complicated by the Wicinski family’s deep connections to NIU. Wicinski’s mother, Gina, played volleyball for the Huskies, while her father, Geneva football coach Rob Wicinski, played football at NIU, and has helped several Vikings football players suit up for the Huskies.
Especially given those ties, Rob Wicinski said the family is choosing not “to sling mud,” but it was clear there was friction between Wicinski and NIU coach Ray Gooden.
Wicinski said there were “many little things that built up,” starting her freshman year.
“I think I put it all in there and tried as hard as I could to work though it all and figure it out but at the end of the day, I just wasn’t happy, and you’ve got to make yourself happy,” Wicinski said. “Life’s too short.”
In late February, NIU confirmed that Wicinski and three teammates – including Kaneland product Jess Lubic and Rosary graduate Haley Norris – opted to leave the program. Wicinski emphasized that each of the players had their own reasons for departing, and was gratified that picking Michigan State would dispel notions that her decision was connected to former NIU assistant coaches Coley Pawlikowski and Dan Pawlikowski leaving for Wisconsin, where they recently accepted positions as Badgers assistants.
Wicinski said she visited Michigan State, Wisconsin and Dayton before committing to Spartans coaches Saturday. Because NIU released her from her scholarship, Wicinski said she will be eligible to play this fall for the Spartans, also an NCAA tournament qualifier last season.
Wicinski sensed a special connection to Spartans coach Cathy George and the program, even experiencing goose bumps while watching a Michigan State highlight tape.
“That was sort of when I knew,” Wicinski said.
Wicinski received good news a few weeks ago, learning that she made the prestigious U.S. Senior A2 team that will compete from June 26 to July 5 in Columbus, Ohio. While the tryout in Colorado Springs, Colo., that netted that opportunity is affiliated with the U.S. Women’s National Team, Wicinski said Olympic aspirations are not at the forefront of her volleyball goals.
“I want to continue to get better as always and I hopefully after college, really want to play in Europe,” Wicinski said. “Hopefully play over there. That’s a main goal of mine I’d love to do, and just have fun with it, grow and learn. I still want to learn more and grow more and get better and to just do well with my new team.”
An elementary education major, Wicinski is finishing up her spring semester in DeKalb before heading to Michigan this summer. She made it clear that leaving NIU was much more complex than the chance to play in the Big Ten.
“I still have a lot of good friends here that I will continue to come back and visit and possibly might come visit me,” Wicinski said. “In a way it’s sad to leave my friends here but I’m very excited to move forward.”