After dropping its first match of the season on Tuesday against Big Ten Wisconsin to end a school-record 11-0 start to the campaign, the Northern Illinois volleyball team has picked up where it left off by sweeping Youngstown State yesterday and doing the same on Sunday afternoon to Iowa, 25-22, 25-17, 25-23.
“It’s nice for us to be able to rebound,” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. “For us to be able to take the lessons from Tuesday night, have a short memory, and do some positive things is great. It could have been very easy for us to split up and not do positive things. I think we’ve done a lot of positive things in these past 24 hours.”
In exacting a bit of revenge on the Big Ten at Victor E. Court, the Huskies (13-1) notched their first win against an opponent from the conference since 2001 — also a win over Iowa, who fell to 5-4.
“I think it’s great for our team and I think it’s great for NIU,” said Gooden of his first win over a Big Ten foe. “I think people recognize names like Iowa and Wisconsin and teams like that. It’s no disrespect to any of the other teams we play, but for us to have a successful event against a Big Ten team is always a positive mark for not only our program, but the athletic department as well.”
In improving to 7-1 at “The Dog House” the Huskies grinded out a stellar win by possessing significant advantages in kills (38-32), hitting percentage (.200-.103), and blocks (8-4).
In the opening set, NIU came out hot with a 13-4 run that proved too large for Iowa to recover from. The Huskies used five blocks to help fuel the spurt. The Hawkeyes would close within three points, 23-20, near the end, but a kill by freshman middle blocker Sarah Angelos (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan) and an Iowa serve error would give the Huskies the set.
With the score knotted at 10-10 in the second set, NIU rallied to end it on a 15-7 run. Four kills by freshman outside hitter Lauren Wicinski (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) highlighted the run.
In the final stanza, NIU called a timeout to regroup after losing a three-point lead, leaving the score tied at 20-20. The break slowed Iowa down, as two errors put the Huskies ahead again. The second of which came on an outstanding effort by junior setter Kristin Hoffman (Batavia, Ill./Batavia), who saved an NIU overpass by forming a solid block to put the ball back on Iowa’s side. The result on the next play was a wide crosscourt attack by the Hawkeyes, who would then call a timeout of their own. NIU then ended the match by getting a kill from Angelos and two from Wicinski.
“Kristin’s play over the net was critical,” Gooden said.
Leading the way for NIU was Wicinski, who totaled 12 kills. Sophomore middle blocker Mary Kurisch (LaCrosse, Wis./West Salem) tied a season-high with seven blocks, adding seven kills as well. Hoffman ran the offense to the tune of 31 assists. She also turned in eight digs, two blocks, and two kills on three swings. Senior libero Maddie Hughes (St. Charles, Ill./North) led the back row with 18 digs.
It ended the weekend on a brighter note — literally.
Seven minutes prior to the first serve Saturday parts of DeKalb suffered a power outage and “The Dog House” went completely black and silent for a few seconds before the Convocation Center’s back-up generator kicked on, providing a dim light. Officials Rod Rodriguez and Daniel Wong deemed the light insufficient enough for a safe match. Arrangements were then made to relocate the event to the rec center and the match started two hours after its originally scheduled 1 p.m. start time.
“It’s not always how you plan it, sometimes it’s a little out of our control,” Gooden said. “I appreciate Youngstown State understanding, and our fans that were there, along with our kids, for being flexible.”
In the new location, the Huskies had to quickly adjust to a playing environment that included a lack of “feel” with no music, public address announcer, and two small scoreboards. However, 154 fans still managed to make their way in and made their presence felt.
“Even though it wasn’t our home court, we still felt at home,” said Gooden. “It’s ironic that the size of the court was similar to that of Elon, where we played earlier this season. All of our players are familiar with the rec center because they played there either during spring practice or during the summer for camp. Even without the confines of Victor E., we still felt the energy of our crowd.”
The Huskies did not seem frazzled by the unexpected change in venue, nor did they show any ill effects from the end of their school-record 11-match winning streak to start the season. NIU soundly went about its business by sweeping Youngstown State, 25-21, 25-15, 25-18, in 1 hour and six minutes — about an hour less than it took to get the match started.
NIU (12-1) dominated the Penguins (2-11) in just about every statistical category by holding an edge in kills (43-26), hitting percentage (.312-.067), assists (41-24), aces (3-2), digs (40-32), blocks (8-4), and points (54-32).
The Huskie seven-match home stand continues at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 21, with a match against DePaul before opening Mid-American Conference play next weekend.
For more information on NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.