Northern Illinois volleyball coach Ray Gooden said he always was worried, even when things go well. He knows how easily success crumbles.
But Gooden said Monday he had no idea four of his players, including two-time Mid-American Conference Player of the Year Lauren Wicinski, wanted to transfer until they told him “recently.” Wicinski, along with sophomores Jessica Lubic (a Kaneland graduate), Haley Norris and Cheyenne Dawson, filed requests to be released from NIU late last week, spokeswoman Donna Turner told the Daily Chronicle.
“As a coach, I think you always worry, just in general. No matter what, at any particular time, you want to make sure that everything is OK with your team,” Gooden said. “Did I know that this was going to happen at this particular time? No. So we had to deal with it as it happened. They made decisions, and we wish them the best.
“We’re obviously disappointed with it. But they had their reasons for it, and we wish them the best.”
Gooden declined to elaborate those decisions, saying only that he understood them. Wicinski was unavailable for comment. Rob Wicinski, Lauren Wicinski’s father and Geneva High School football coach, did not return multiple messages Monday.
Gooden said the ultimate decision whether to grant release requests is an administrative matter. Turner said NIU has five to seven days to respond to the requests, and that all factors will be considered before making a decision. NIU athletic director Jeff Compher was unavailable for comment Monday.
Wicinski would leave the biggest void. The Geneva native became the first player in MAC history to be named the league’s player of the year as a freshman, an award she defended as a sophomore. Last season, she led the nation with 5.34 kills per set, helping NIU to a national-best 15.02 kills per set. Wicinski’s 6.18 points per set also led the country, while her .57 aces per set were third-best nationally.
Wicinski led NIU to a MAC regular-season championship last season. The Huskies lost in five sets to Central Michigan in the MAC Championship match, and their season ended with a, 3-1, loss to No. 25 Miami in the NCAA tournament’s first round.
“I’m pretty confident they’re going to focus a lot more on Lauren because of her numbers and what she’s done,” Gooden said. “But every one of those players, they’re a part of our program, so we care about them just as much. We care about them equally.”
Kaneland girls volleyball coach Todd Weimer said he was “shell-shocked” to find out about the players’ requests, adding that the last time he touched base with the Lubic family leading up to NIU’s NCAA tournament appearance, all seemed well.
“I’ve got close ties with NIU,” Weimer said. “I went to school there and I know the coaches there very well. I’m kind of in the dark about everything. I’m hoping everything’s good but it’s surprising to me, from an outsider’s view so to speak, with all the success Northern has had.”
With the process still unfinished Monday, Gooden said the next step for his program, which would’ve been a favorite to win the MAC in the fall, simply is to get better. He admitted replacing Wicinski would be difficult.
But Gooden also acknowledged Wicinski would leave quite a legacy if she indeed departs.
“I think Lauren, in the two years that she played, was one where she amassed a lot of individual awards and had a lot of individual accolades,” Gooden said. “I think she’s for sure made her mark here at Northern. She definitely helped our team do some special things, especially this season.
“She has left her mark, without a doubt.”
• Jay Schwab contributed to this report.