Augustana College Media Day

From left, Augustana's Chrishawn Orange, Dylan Sortillo, Micah Martin and Nolan Edel pose for a portrait at Augustana College's basketball media day Thursday at the Carver Center in Rock Island. The four returning starters lead a team facing high expectations this season.

BRIAN ACHENBACH / Lee News Network

There already has been a lot of buzz surrounding the Augustana College men’s basketball team for the upcoming season, and deservedly so.

The Vikings, coming off a shared CCIW regular-season title and an unexpected run to a national NCAA Division III runner-up finish, feature nearly the same roster as last season. A year older and more seasoned, hopes are high for the Vikings, who are garnering plenty of attention in preseason polls.

“The coaching staff does such an unbelievable job of getting us ready for each practice and each lift and everything we do that we’re really not fazed by the outside noise,” said senior captain Dylan Sortillo. “We try not to let that get in the way of the work we put in.”

Guys on the team admit they have heard the same question over and over this fall from classmates about getting back to the NCAA DIII Final Four. While that is but one goal for this bunch, it is a long way away.

“We’re all excited about what we have going on here and all the hype,” admitted junior Chrishawn Orange, last season’s team MVP. “We just have to embrace it and enjoy the process. That’s the big motto. We just have to take it step by step.”

“We welcome and acknowledge the expectations and the anticipation of the season,” said coach Grey Giovanine, “but we stay grounded on each step that it’s going to take.”

The veteran coach says there are plenty of little things on which to focus between now and March. But, the expectations loom inside the program as well.

“This has a chance to be another great chapter in the tradition of the program,” said Giovanine, who has led the Vikings to two national runner-up finishes in the last three seasons. “There are a lot of variables, but we sure like the possibilities.”

The Vikings enter the 2017-18 season with four returning starters — Sortillo, Orange, junior Nolan Ebel and sophomore Micah Martin. Augie also has 12 of its 13 varsity players as returning lettermen, with a number of those being major contributors.

That has plenty of eyeballs on the program. The graduation of Jacob Johnston was a big loss, but it appears as if others are ready to pick up larger roles, including junior Pierson Wofford, who is back with the program after being removed from the team last January by the school administration.

“I think there will be great competition,” said Giovanine, noting great depth and balance of this year’s team bolstered by an influx of younger talent. “Last year’s team evolved, and I think that will happen again.”

Even with all of last season’s accomplishments, there were a number of goals the Vikings watched slip away. By losing their last three regular-season games, Augie had to settle for a three-way share of the CCIW crown. A loss to North Central in the finals of the CCIW Tournament led to another missed goal. The 79-78 loss to Babson in the NCAA title game was a tough one to take as well.

There are plenty of goals to keep this team hungry and focused.

“The story is kind of unwritten and that’s the beauty of it,” said Sortillo. “We have a chance to do something really special.”