Breaking a recent trend, the Northern Illinois volleyball team picked up its third road win in a row by beating Eastern Michigan, 25-20, 26-28, 27-25, 25-21, on Saturday night in only four sets. The Huskies (19-2, 5-1) had won each of the last three Mid-American Conference matches in their five-game winning streak in five sets.
“We are very happy for the weekend,” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden of his team’s 2-0 weekend away from Victor E. Court. “We played against two really good teams on their home courts. Eastern is doing a really good job. They are a good team. It was great for us to get off to a really good start.”
In advancing to 5-0 on the road, something that hadn’t been done since 1992, NIU featured a three-headed offensive effort that led the Huskies to advantages over the Eagles (17-6, 4-2 MAC) in kills (67-50), hitting percentage (.229-.187), and aces (7-6).
Freshman outside hitter Lauren Wicinski (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) fronted the attack with 27 kills, adding three aces and 14 digs for her eighth double-double. She has now had 20 or more kills in four of the last six matches. Freshman middle blocker Sarah Angelos (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan) put up 11 kills, as did junior outsider Allison McGlaughlin (Morton, Ill./Morton), who also added a season-high 18 digs. The double-double for McGlaughlin was her sixth. Junior setter Kristin Hoffman (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) also achieved a double-double, her fifth, with 48 assists and 12 digs.
“The thing we did well tonight was we played a lot more aggressively from the start,” Gooden said. “It was nice to have that. The output from our left sides was solid again. We also had a real nice night from the middles in terms of blocking and scoring. It was really good for us to score a lot of points with our blocks and in transition.”
The Huskies were even better on defense, netting a season-high 90 digs, along with holding a 9-4 edge in blocks. For the second night in a row, senior libero Maddie Hughes (St. Charles, Ill./North) reached the 30-dig mark, with 32 digs, as she captained the back row. Sophomore middle blocker Mary Kurisch (LaCrosse, Wis./West Salem) owned the net, notching a career-high-tying seven blocks.
“(Maddie) had a real consistent match,” Gooden said. “She helped us not only with her defense, which is her trademark, but she also did a nice job of serving for us. Overall, our defense really picked it up a notch.”
NIU led wire to wire in the opening set, scoring four of the first five points on a pair of kills each by the freshman duo of Angelos and Wicinski. Later, the Huskies extended their lead to an insurmountable 19-10 after kills by the sophomore pair of Kurisch and outside hitter Meghan Romo (Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso).
In the second set, the teams went back and forth the whole way. The Eagles had the first chance at taking the set with a 25-24 lead, but Wicinski kept the Huskies alive with a putaway. An Eagle point later, McGlaughlin saved the set with a kill. However, NIU could not get on top of EMU as a serve error and ace tied the match.
NIU trailed for most of the swing set before a late run changed the match. Down 10-5, the Huskies could not keep up with the Eagles until a timeout at 21-18 turned the tide. A revamped NIU squad went on a 5-3 run behind four kills by Wicinski. After an EMU break in action, Hoffman served up an ace and Wicinski put down another kill to put NIU in front, 25-24. The Eagles answered with a kill, but then Kurisch played a big role in giving the Huskies momentum in the match. The sophomore tallied a kill and then teamed with McGlaughlin on a block to end the set.
“Kristen’s serving was big in that late run,” said Gooden. “It was one of the first times in a while where we had to really fight to get that set. That part was really good to see. That fight carried over to the fourth set. It was a big momentum shift.”
In the final stanza, NIU held a slim margin for a majority of the set and the Eagles tied the score several times but couldn’t get over the hump. The final tie was at 20-20, when the Huskies promptly ran away with the match on a 5-1 run. The spurt was started by a McGlaughlin kill and Wicinski took over after that, ending the contest with four straight putaways for the Huskies.
The victory, along with Buffalo beating Ball State at home tonight, gave the Huskies sole possession of first place in the MAC West Division as NIU improved to 5-1 in league play for the first time since 2006.
Next up for the Huskies is a return to home as they face Akron (13-4, 5-0 MAC) at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15 and Buffalo (14-8, 2-4 MAC) at the same time Saturday, Oct. 16.
For more information on NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com