Decisively up 2-0 in the match, the Northern Illinois volleyball team could not hold off a determined Central Michigan squad that ran off the final three sets of the contest (18-25, 16-25, 25-23, 25-23, 15-9) on Saturday night at NIU Convocation Center’s Victor E. Court.
“Central Michigan is a really good team,” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. “They play a lot on emotion. We were able to neutralize their level of emotion in the first two sets, but as the match wore on, they were able to get enough momentum to push them through.”
The decision for the Huskies ended their six-match winning streak at home and capped the Mid-American Conference regular season for both teams.
Already locking up the No. 4 seed in next week’s MAC Tournament with last night’s win, NIU will await Tuesday’s first round results to see who its opponent will be at 10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 19, in Toledo, Ohio, at the SeaGate Center. The Huskies will face the winner of the No. 5 Eastern Michigan versus No. 12 Bowling Green match. This year, NIU won both its meetings with EMU and swept Bowling Green at home.
With an 11-5 record in league play, NIU (25-6) put together its best MAC regular season since 2006, when the Huskies went 13-3 and won the MAC West Division regular season crown. NIU’s 25 overall wins is the best total since 1998, and the Huskies have a chance to keep improving upon that mark in the single-elimination tournament.
“I know at some point, we’ll be able to look back and reflect on how positive our regular season has been,” Gooden said. “Right now, we have to work really hard on taking the lessons from it and applying them into our conference tournament. Make no mistake, I’m very proud of what we’ve done so far in 2010.”
The Huskies were led by freshman outside hitter Lauren Wicinski’s (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) 21 kills. Hitting .359, the nation’s fifth best in points gathered 27 as she notched her 11th match with 20 or more kills. The country’s top freshman in points, kills and aces also added her fifth game with five-plus aces with five.
Sophomore outside hitter Meghan Romo (Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso) reached double figures, too, putting together 11 kills to mark her sixth match with 10 or better putaways. Additionally for the offense, junior setter Kristin Hoffman (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) totaled 45 assists to go with 10 digs for her seventh double-double.
On Senior Night, the solo senior of the team, libero Maddie Hughes (St. Charles, Ill./North), tallied 18 digs. She has done so 25 times this season and in each of the last four matches. The total ups her NIU second-best all-time digs amount to 2,148. That total ranks fifth in MAC history. The 2009 MAC Defensive Player of the Year also served up a pair of aces to give her 68 for her career, which ranks third in program history.
“I know that our team feels really down about the fact that we couldn’t send Maddie off on a high note,” Gooden said. “But what they’ll realize soon is that both Maddie and the team have done some very positive things to put us into the spot that we are in. For that, we are grateful.”
The first two sets went all in favor of NIU. With the score tied, 3-3, in the first set, the Huskies used an 11-6 run to put away the Chippewas (14-14., 8-8 MAC). Knotted at 9-9 in the second stanza, NIU went on a 10-1 surge to carry momentum into the break, up 2-0.
However, the momentum completely shifted. In two see-saw battles in the fourth and fifth sets, CMU came out on top. Tied at 16-16, the Chippewas rallied off four straight points that left NIU unable to climb back from in the third set. The Huskies were up 8-4 in the fourth set until an 8-1 run turned the tide.
In the final set, CMU kept putting scoring to put pressure on the Huskies, quickly building a 5-2 lead. The Chippewas maintained the three-point edge at the turn and turned it into a six-point victory.
For more information on NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.