The players and coaches can never look this far ahead, but outsiders can always don the rose-colored spectacles and become enamored with the future.  Augustana College has a fantastic women’s basketball team and it seems that many people agree.

As evidence, the USA Today Sports/WBCA Division II Coaches Poll has them ranked at number 5 as we enter the January portion of the schedule.  Eight of their nine games have been double digit wins and that ninth game was a nine point win on the road.  That is an impressive list of accomplishments.

However, don’t get out the engraving tool just yet for the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference championship trophy or even a berth to the regional tournament.  Seventeen games remain in the regular portion of the schedule so there is plenty left to decide.  However, when a team that has performed consistently well as Augie has the temptation arrives to wonder how far the team could go.

For comparison purposes, the gold standard of what NCAA Division 2 women’s basketball championship teams should look like begins in North Dakota.  For an astounding 11 consecutive years either North Dakota or North Dakota State either won the national title or was runner-up.  Those teams were extremely talented, tough as nails and driven to win.  Beyond that, for about 6 of those 11 years two players were paramount to championship hopes.  Kasey Morlock of NDSU and Jenny Crouse of UND were both All-Americans and were so dominant at that level of basketball.

The Lady Vikings have in their arsenal one Alex Feeney is a matchup nightmare and is a player of the year candidate.  Emily Schulte and Shaunteva Ashley compose a gritty backcourt that will measure up against all comers.  Faith Tinklenberg and Lydia Nelson round out the starting front line having stellar senior seasons.  The bench composes of solid players with freshman Riley Nordgaard showing she is a cut above the rest.

We could go through the painstaking task of lining up the squads of old against the current Lady Viking edition, but that would be futile.  However to suitably bridge the gap to the past with the old Bison and Fighting Sioux title winners is to point out the dearth of salty conference opponents that Augustana will face.  North Dakota State had North Dakota and vice-versa to become the battle-tested champion.  Then you had really good South Dakota State and Augustana teams that could be formidable, but were admittedly a step behind.  This season within the conference Wayne State is the defending champ and  nationally ranked, but have a couple of ugly losses that raise doubts.  No other team is currently in the top 25, but Minnesota State won the title in 2009 and has one loss this year with Winona State, Northern and St. Cloud showing signs of life.

If the first conference title in the tenure of Dave Krauth is going to happen for Augie, there will be no more than four losses.  Beyond that, a 24-2 mark going into the conference tournament will encourage visions of a Central Region title, three wins away from the whole enchilada.  That’s a discussion to have in March when most of the games will be in past tense.

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