Dylan Sortillo knows what he is getting into as the Augustana men’s basketball team prepares for the NCAA Division III Final Four.
The junior guard from Bettendorf is one of four Vikings who were part of the program’s 2015 team which reached the national championship game, and is the only Augustana player who saw the court in the game.
“It’s a different deal. I remember not getting a lot of sleep on the Thursday night before our semifinal game. It was a pretty anxious time, but an awesome experience,’’ Sortillo said.
Sortillo played 18 minutes in 2015 national title game, emerging late in the season much as Augustana freshman Micah Martin, Donovan Ferguson and Lucas Simon have done this season to help the Vikings secure a spot in Friday’s 6:30 p.m. national semifinal game against Williams.
That experience positioned Sortillo for the success he has enjoyed the past two seasons, but he wants more.
“This is great opportunity for our team,’’ Sortillo said. “It’s an experience everybody will always remember, and it’s a business trip. We’ve got some work to do.’’
That was a point the only seniors on this year’s Augustana roster, Jacob Johnston and Michael Hoekstra, made when they joined Sortillo and junior Brandon Schattner in talking to younger players on the Vikings’ roster before the team left Wednesday for Salem, Virginia.
“It’s a fun week for everybody, but we need to stay dialed in on the game, too,’’ Vikings coach Grey Giovanine said. “We want everybody to enjoy it and we’re having the guys who went through it before talk to the rest of the team about it so they know what to expect.’’
Augustana practiced Wednesday at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse on the Butler campus in Indianapolis on its way to Virginia. The team is scheduled to work out this afternoon at the Salem Civic Center where Friday’s game will be played.
“It’s a great experience,’’ Johnston said. “I was sophomore who was watching older guys play for the most part two years ago so definitely excited about getting the chance to end my senior season in the Final Four.’’
Hoekstra shares those feelings.
“To watch this team come together has been great. It’s something we’ve been working toward since last summer and to get to the Final Four twice in three years, it’s what you play for, to compete at the highest level,’’ Hoekstra said. “It’s a great way to finish out the career. For a Division III player, this is as good as it gets.’’
Johnston and Hoekstra each played one minute in the national semifinal game as sophomores in 2015, with Hoekstra scoring two points in a 20-point win over a Babson team which is also returning to the Final Four this year.
There will be a banquet to attend and NCAA rules to adhere to, topics of discussion for the Vikings following their final practice of the season at the Carver Center on Tuesday.
“It’s easy to get distracted this week. We’ll be treated like Division I players out there and we can’t let that get in our way,’’ said Johnston, a former Erie prep who is the Vikings’ second-leading scorer at 12.6 points per game and leads the team in rebounding.
“The thing we’re talking about with the younger guys is to stay focused and get ready to play basketball.’’
Hoekstra said the limited experience Augustana players have on the biggest stage in Division III basketball should be beneficial.
“The guys who have been here before may not have played a big role on that last team, but we did learn about what to expect off the court and once the game starts, we know that we have to bring our best,’’ Hoekstra said. “Whatever minutes you get, make them count.’’
Schattner, who has played his way into the Augustana rotation late this season and hit the basket which put the Vikings ahead to stay in a Sweet 16 win over Wartburg, welcomes the Final Four opportunity for a team which counts five freshmen and sophomores among its top seven scorers.
“I don’t think a lot of people in the Quad-Cities expected this from us this year, but we’ve been working hard and that doesn’t change this week,’’ Schattner said. “All of the hype of the Final Four, it can be overwhelming but our job is to put together another good game.’’
The road to the national semifinals has forced the Vikings to do that, starting with knocking out defending national champion St. Thomas in the opening round and beating 2014 champion Wisconsin-Whitewater on its home floor the next night.
Wins over Wartburg and Hanover followed in last weekend’s sectional, helping Augustana continue to grow.
“We’ve put ourselves in this position by playing our game as a team. We’re playing good team ball now,’’ Sortillo said. “That’s where our thoughts should be, working to keep that going.’’