With shades of pink abundantly present throughout Victor E. Court, the Northern Illinois volleyball team conquered Buffalo for the second time in as many years in a Breast Cancer Awareness match.
The Huskies swept the Bulls, 25-20, 26-24, 25-19, on Saturday night just a few hours after the NIU football team nearly did the same to Buffalo’s football squad with a 45-14 homecoming triumph.
“We are so fortunate for our only home weekend of the month to have two very energetic and supportive crowds,” head coach Ray Gooden said of a crowd that also featured several former Huskie volleyball players on Alumni Night. “It was great to be part of a successful Huskie homecoming.”
The seventh win in a row for NIU improved the team to 21-2 on the season, and 7-1 in Mid-American Conference play. The Bulls, who fell to NIU in their Pink Match last season on the same weekend in Buffalo, N.Y., dropped to 14-10, 2-6 in league competition.
Freshman outside hitter Lauren Wicinski (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) led the way for NIU with 21 kills, a .357 attack percentage, 10 digs, and a season-best five blocks. The nation’s freshmen kills leader has now totaled double digit putaways in 22 consecutive matches, including having 20 or more in the last four. The four-time MAC West Player of the Week honoree has also now reached double figures in double-doubles, tallying her 10th tonight.
“I know people are very excited with how well she can attack the ball and how physical she can be offensively,” Gooden said. “She definitely gave us a good start with a block on the first play of the match to help set the tone. We are excited to see her have a pretty solid weekend, both offensively and defensively.”
In running an offense that held advantages in kills (48-33) and hitting percentage (.254-.164), junior setter Kristin Hoffman (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) produced a well-rounded performance: 33 assists, 12 digs, two kills on four swings. The double-double was Hoffman’s sixth of the year.
Sophomore middle blocker Mary Kurisch (La Crosse, Wis./West Salem) came up big as well, netting six kills on 10 swings with on error (.500) and compiling four blocks. Kurisch has registered at least four blocks in five straight contests.
Anchoring the defense, senior libero Maddie Hughes (St. Charles, Ill./North) dug up 12 balls, as did junior outside hitter Allison McGlaughlin (Morton, Ill./Morton). Hughes upped her consecutive double figure dig streak to 10, while McGlaughlin has done so in six straight.
The MAC West first place Huskies trailed only two times in the match, both came early in the second and third sets. In the first set, the Huskies broke a 10-10 tie with an 8-1 run that included three kills by Wicinski. The spurt was enough to easily give NIU the set after out-killing the Bulls 16-7.
In a closely contested second set, the Huskies never had a lead or more than three until late, but had control of the game, never trailing. Up 24-20, NIU nearly let the lead slide as a 4-0 fury by Buffalo knotted the game. However, the Bulls quickly cooled with consecutive errors, the first of which was a block by Romo and Angelos, to end the set. The key to taking a 2-0 lead in the match were three less Huskie errors (3) than Buffalo (6) and a hitting percentage edge of .341-.261.
After losing the first point of the final set to Buffalo, the Huskies received kills from Wicinski and McGlaughlin to regain control. With the score knotted at 10-10, NIU made its last push, opening a 16-11 advantage with help from two Wicinski kills and a combo block by Wicinski and Kurisch. From there, the Huskies were able to ride the run to claim their fourth straight match at home, improving to 12-2 overall at the “Dog House.”
“The biggest thing we wanted to do tonight was be consistent,” said Gooden of the team’s approach in securing the program’s second all-time wins leader’s 150th win at NIU. “In doing so, we wanted to have a good start and play well through the middle and finish strong at the end. I think by making that our focus it helped us not only play well for the first and third sets, but push through in the second set.”
Next, the Huskies hit the road again, this time for their longest conference trip of the season. The four-game swing will begin with a contest at 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 22, against Kent State (10-12, 3-4 MAC) in Kent, Ohio.
For more information on NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.