After earning the program’s second berth in the NCAA Division III Final Four in three years on Saturday night, the Augustana men's basketball team was treated like royalty before leaving Holland, Michigan.
The team bus stopped for a late-night dinner at a Burger King before returning to the Quad-Cities.
“Welcome to Division III,’’ coach Grey Giovanine said.
The Vikings are also enjoying the taste of some postseason success, a string of four straight wins leading to a 6:30 p.m. national semifinal game Friday in Salem, Virginia, against Williams, a team which shares a 23-8 record with Augustana.
It’s been an interesting ride to this point for a young Vikings team which saw freshmen and sophomores contribute 53 points and 28 rebounds in Saturday’s 77-64 sectional championship win over Hanover.
Losing its top six scorers and rebounders from last season’s 29-2 team, Giovanine expected a few peaks and valleys as players moved into new roles this season.
“We’ve remade ourselves a couple of times as guys have progressed and sometimes out of necessity,’’ Giovanine said.
That latest makeover has evolved in recent weeks.
Augustana lost its final three regular-season games, missing a chance to secure sole possession of first place in the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin with each setback.
All three came on the road and after losing by five points at both Carroll and North Park, the latter in overtime, the Vikings stumbled into league tourney play with a 107-77 loss at Illinois Wesleyan on Feb. 21.
Augustana did reach the title game of the CCIW tourney before opening NCAA play with a pair of buzzer-beating victories over tradition-rich St. Thomas and Wisconsin-Whitewater, then following that with two double-digit sectional wins over the weekend.
“We’ve stayed together, stayed strong and kept working,’’ senior Jacob Johnston said. “For us, it’s always about the team and putting in the work to get better every day. That’s why we are where we’re at right now.’’
And that all seems miles away from a long bus ride home on a foggy night following a 30-point loss to a rival on the final night of the regular season.
“We had a long way to go that night,’’ Giovanine said. “But to the kids’ credit, to the staff’s credit, everybody stuck with it. We made a few adjustments, guys bought in and this is where it led. It’s been a total team effort.’’