Many high school players with her talent might have signed with an established Division I program, but Kelsey Augustine took a different route when she chose the Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville women’s volleyball program.
The sophomore middle hitter from Geneva couldn’t be more pleased with her decision to help the Cougars build toward next season’s full DI status.
Recruited by coach Ted Gober, Augustine signed with the Cougars in 2009 soon after Geneva’s 35-3 season ended with a three-set sectional semifinal loss to York. Augustine considered other universities, but one of the main draws of SIU-E was the opportunity to play for a program still in the Division I reclassification process.
The school became a member of the Ohio Valley Conference on July 1, 2008, with a majority of the university’s athletic teams – including volleyball – beginning regular-season play in the conference in 2011-12. The Cougars will be eligible for postseason play next season.
“I thought about it more in a positive way,” said Augustine, who had a team high-tying 12 kills and four digs Saturday when SIU-E won its first-ever OVC match, 25-22, 25-19, 25-15, over Southeast Missouri. “It would be cool to be part of a team that’s building. I wouldn’t have been able to do that at other programs.”
Augustine knew about the university’s transition to Division I, but she wasn’t expecting Gober to step down in January following 10 seasons with the program.
“We were all shocked and a little surprised, but we tried to look toward the future rather than dwell on the past,” said Augustine, who had 137 kills and led the Cougars with 0.75 blocks per set last season when they finished 14-15. “We were wondering who the next coach would be.”
Augustine and her teammates met each of the four coaching finalists during the interview process, and they were thrilled when Leah Johnson, a volunteer assistant at Notre Dame last season and a former assistant coach and player at Missouri State, was hired in April. Johnson had just two 45-minute practices in late April, but there’s been a strong bond formed since practice started in early August.
“Coach Johnson does a great job,” Augustine said. “She’s helped make it a smooth transition for everyone.”
Augustine has done her part to make that transition a seamless one. She’s among the team leaders in kills and blocks, and she consistently draws triple-blocks, opening plenty of hitting lanes for her teammates.
“I’ve seen Kelsey’s productivity and work ethic rise so much just since the preseason,” Johnson said.
As impressed as Johnson is with Augustine’s fast arm swing and on-court performance, she’s challenged the sophomore to improve one part of her game.
“I told her that playing like a vet allows you the opportunity to say something to your teammates and try to motivate them,” Johnson said.
Augustine, though, is admittedly more reserved off the court.
“I’m the type of person that doesn’t need to talk unless something needs to be said,” she said, “but it’s becoming easier during the game when I want to get my thoughts out.”
That’s a strong voice to help the Cougars’ program move forward.
• Matt Beardmore writes a weekly On Campus column for the Kane County Chronicle about area athletes competing in college. If you have a column idea, contact him at email@example.com.