The spring sports season may have been canceled, but the Augustana athletics program hasn’t slowed down in recent months. The college has added three varsity sports for a total of 28 teams—the most for any CCIW school—and two new head coaches.
The new teams include women's wrestling, an emerging sport that has seen steady growth in the Midwest and nationally, and men's and women's water polo, both of which will be based in the new state-of-the-art Peter J. Lindberg, M.D., Center for Health and Human Performance.
Here's a roundup of the latest developments:
Steve Schafer '01 has been tabbed to become the 16th head men's basketball coach in Vikings history, replacing Grey Giovanine, who retired on May 5 of this year after compiling a record of 433-150 in 21 seasons.
A native of Batavia, Ill., Schafer was a member of the Augustana men's basketball team from 1997 through 2000. "I'm elated to be back home where it all began for me 20 years ago," Schafer said. "I cannot wait to get started."
Schafer comes to Augustana after five years as the head men's basketball coach and director of athletics at Benedictine-Mesa University in Mesa, Ariz., where he built the athletic program from scratch. As the first coach of men's Redhawks basketball, Schafer guided teams that qualified for the California-Pacific Tournament twice in its first four years, and in 2016-17, the Redhawks finished as Regular Season Co-Champions in the Cal Pac with an 11-3 record.
He will lead a Vikings basketball program that owns 18 CCIW championships and has made seven national Final Four appearances.
Adding a women's wrestling team puts Augustana at the front end of a growing trend across the nation, particularly in Illinois and neighboring states in the Midwest.
Tony Willaert, who recently completed his third season as the head coach of the men's wrestling program, will lead the women's team. "I'm really excited," he said. "Our local area has seen a lot of growth with girls wrestling so this will give us a great base for our recruiting efforts. I know we can develop a solid base over the next couple years and compete on the national level right away."
By establishing the 37th NCAA-affiliated women's wrestling program in the nation, Augustana brings the program a step closer to reaching 40 NCAA member schools, at which point the women's program will qualify for an NCAA-sanctioned national championship.
Women's wrestling will compete in the winter, sharing the same time-frame as the men’s team. Similar to the men's program, the women will have 10 weight classes.
Women's and men's water polo
The decision to add water polo evolved alongside plans to build the Lindberg Center, which will include one of the top aquatic facilities in the CCIW. Construction on the center, which will house all swimming/diving events, began last March and is scheduled to be completed before the 2021-22 school year begins.
Heading up both the women's and men's water polo teams will be Ryan Pryor, who compiled a 70-35 record in the last four years as the women's head coach at Virginia Military Institute. He led the school to its first NCAA top 25 national ranking.
Pryor, a native of Holland, Mich., previously coached water polo teams at the University of Michigan and Connecticut College. The sport has experienced rapid growth in high schools across the country, particularly in Illinois, California and Florida.
Men's water polo will be a fall sport, and the women will compete in the spring, when both teams take to the pool beginning in the 2021-22 school year.
Visit Augustana athletics for all the latest news, including season previews for fall sports teams.