The Sports Beacon

Beacon News sports writers shed light on the local sports scene

Wicinski reaches an even grand

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The hits just keep on coming for Northern Illinois sophomore volleyball standout Lauren Wicinski.

The outside hitter from Geneva had 25 kills on only 36 swings Thursday to help lead the Huskies to a 3-0 sweep of Mid-American Conference West rival Western Michigan. In the process, Wicinski became the fastest player in NIU history to eclipse the 1,000-kill mark. She surpassed the plateau in 54 matches.

"I was joking with [Lauren] after the match that for the first time in a while it looked like she was having fun," NIU head coach Ray Gooden said. "I know there are people on this team that feel the stress of the season as it wears on, and she does, but she, along with the other girls, continue to do amazing things. She had 25 kills tonight, but it wasn't on 100 swings or anything along those lines. Credit goes to her for scoring those points but also to (Batavia grad) Kristin Hoffman for running the offense and our middle blockers. She just went out there and did her thing. It was great to see her stay in rhythm and not really have a care out there."

Coming off a career-best 39-kill performance at Toledo last Saturday, Wicinski committed just one error. The NCAA kills leader's .667 attack percentage easily eclipsed her previous career high of .550 and helped give NIU (14-5, 3-2 MAC) its first 3-0 win over WMU (13-5, 3-2 MAC) since Nov. 3, 2001.

"Every time we play in our division, it's going to be a war," said Gooden. "It's not really coach speak; it's the truth. We knew tonight was going to be a critical match not just for tonight, but for down the road as well. It was really good for us to go out there and defend our home court."

"[Reaching 1,000 career kills is] special for her and special for the people she's played with," Gooden said. "It's been very impressive to see what she can do when the ball is in her hands. Night after night people know she's a top player but she still finds ways to go out there and score, and score with ease."

Wicinski topping the charts

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There's no sophomore slump for Geneva's Lauren Wicinski.

The Northern Illinois University outside hitter heads into weekend matches at Ball State (Friday) and Toledo (Saturday) leading the nation in kills-per-set with a 5.40 average. Georgia Tech's Monique Mead ranks second in the category at 5.17.

Wicinski, the defending Mid-American Conference Player of the Year, and her teammates are averaging 15.15 kills-per-set, which also leads the country. Wicinski is third in the nation in aces-per-set at 0.62, which puts her No. 1 in points-per-set at 6.35.

Not surprisingly, NIU senior setter Kristin Hoffman from Batavia is faring well. She ranks second in the NCAA lists with an average of 12.34 assists-per-set.

English a healthy scratch from opener

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Was Norv Turner sending a message?

Even though he was listed first on the team's depth chart, outside linebacker Larry English was a surprise scratch for the San Diego Chargers Sunday in the team's season opener against Minnesota.

A report by Scott Bair in San Diego's North County Times said, "Turner said he (English) looked healthy. Turner also noted English looked as if he hadn't played for a long time."

That's true, to a point. The Marmion Academy and Northern Illinois graduate missed most of last season with a broken foot that required surgery. It didn't heal right and a second surgery was required this past spring. He spent most of the summer and part of the preseason rehabbing it, appeared in the team's second preseason game but then missed time later with what was thought to be a minor groin strain.

Hopefully, it's just a matter of a healthy English getting more practices in and returning to the field soon.

Mum's the word on Boenzi absence

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He was listed No. 2 behind starting noseguard Nabal Jefferson going into Saturday's Northern Illinois opener against Army and he's listed there again this week, but redshirt freshman Frank Boenzi didn't play in Saturday's 42-26 blowout.

Every other d lineman on the two-deeps list did, but not Boenzi. who was on the sideline but not in full uniform for the game. He wasn't injured, a member of the sports information staff told one reporter during the game. And after Tuesday's weekly press conference, all coach Dave Doeren would say was that Boenzi would be available to play in Week 2 this Saturday at Kansas.

Left to draw our own conclusions, I think it's safe to say Boenzi probably was late for a practice, late for a meeting, maybe missed a class or some other "minor" infraction. If it was anything more serious, we doubt Boenzi would be available to play this week. Reports are the 6-foot-3, 310-pounder practiced on Tuesday. Look for him in jersey No. 98.

Redshirt freshman linebacker Michael Santacaterina, from Geneva like Boenzi, did make his debut against Army and had assists on two tackles. An outside linebacker, Santacaterina wears jersey No. 52.

Starting middle linebacker Pat Schiller (No. 53) is also from Geneva and he was listed as having a team-high 6.5 tackles in the post-game stats distributed by NIU's sports information staff. The game notes for Kansas, issued this week, list Schiller with 9 tackles, second on the team to safety Tommy Davis with 10. Those stats are updated each week after the coaches' review of the game film.

Seibert, EIU play at Northwestern

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Down in Charleston they're calling it the Bob Spoo Legacy Tour, and it got off to a good start last week as the Eastern Illinois University football team came from behind to beat arch-rival Illinois State in the 100th meeting between the two schools.

Spoo, the veteran coach of the Panthers, will retire after this, his 25th season leading the program. Eastern comes north this week to continue the tour, taking on Northwestern in a non-conference matchup in Evanston. It begins at 2:30 p.m. and will be carried on television on the Big Ten Network.

When the Panthers are on offense, check out No. 74 at right tackle. Oswego's Collin Seibert, who redshirted last season during his freshman year, is now a starter on the team's O-line. The 6-foot-4 Seibert, who also started at center on Oswego's Class 3A runnerup basketball team in 2009, is up to 268 pounds.

Harnish extends player of week streak

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Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish extended the Huskies' Mid-American Conference Player of the Week streak to 11, dating back to last season. when he earned the MAC West honor for offense for last Saturday's performance in a 49-26 win over Army in the 2011 season opener.

The fifth-year senior, who won the honor for the sixth time in his career, completed 12 of 19 passes for 195 yards and five touchdowns and ran 11 times for another 80 yards. Harnish currently ranks second in the country with an efficiency rating of 225.68 after averaging 9.2 yards-per-play in his three quarters of action.

Harnish's five TD passes were the most by a NIU quarterack since Phil Horvath threw for six TDs in an overtime loss at Akron on Sept. 24, 2005. Harnish ranks third in school career touchdown passes behind only College Football Hall of Famer George Bork (60) and Josh Haldi (55).

Spann makes Colts, goes on IR

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Former Northern Illinois University running back Chad Spann, an undrafted free agent, made the 53-man roster of his hometown Indianapolis Colts when the team's final preseason cuts were announced on Saturday.

Two days later, though, the team announced Spann had been placed on injures reserve and was replaced by fullback Chris Gronkowski, who was claimed off waivers from the Dallas Cowboys. Spann suffered a hamstring injury according to a report in the Indianpolis Star. Being placed on IR means he will be sidelined for the whole season, amounting to a redshirt season.

Spann was voted league MVP by Mid-American Conference coaches last season after helping lead NIU to an 11-3 record. He topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark his junior and senior seasons in DeKalb.

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