Northern Illinois extended its magical 2010 volleyball season with a hard-fought, five-set win over Eastern Michigan Friday in the quarterfinals of the Mid-American Conference Volleyball Championship at the Seagate Center in Toledo.
NIU was playing its first match in the tournament after earning a first round bye.
With the win, which improved the Huskies’ record to 26-6 on the year, Northern Illinois advanced to the MAC Tournament semifinals for the first time since 2001. NIU will take on the winner of Friday afternoon’s match between No. 1 seed Ball State and No. 8 seed Toledo at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in the semifinals.
“It’s my first time playing on Saturday (at the MAC Tournament), so it was a win for this current team, but also for many Huskie teams in the past,” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. “The match today was a typical MAC West match where both teams were scratching and clawing and fighting to get any edge. There was tremendous ebb and flow, and it was back and forth the entire time. We had leads and we had deficits through the entire match.”
The scores of each set reflected the back and forth nature of the match. Northern Illinois took the first set, 25-20, before EMU came back to win the second set, 25-18. The Huskies went ahead 2-1 with a 28-26 win in set number three and had a match point in the fourth set before falling 26-24 as the Eagles tied the match at two sets apiece.
In the defining fifth set, Northern Illinois fell behind 6-2 and still trailed when the teams swapped sides of the court midway through the set. The Huskies battled back to a 10-10 tie. NIU then won five of the next six points to earn the landmark win.
“We had a chance to pull it out in the fourth set, but we were unlucky at the end and they made some plays,” Gooden said. “We got down 6-2 in the fifth set, and we were down at the turn. We made a good run to tie it, 10-10 and then we finally settled down and played some really good volleyball. I saw some Huskie volleyball, we scored in transition, we had some good serving, and played good defense. It was great to be able to finish strong.”
Freshman Lauren Wicinski, who became the first player in league history to be named the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year as a freshman Thursday night, led the Huskies in the match. Sophomore Mary Kurisch played one of her top matches of the season with 18 kills and only one error while senior Maddie Hughes came up with 30 digs. (Due to a computer problem, stats from the match were not available from the MAC and all stats are estimated.)
“The entire team really fought,” Gooden said. “It is so hard to advance at this tournament. Lauren led us – she had a gutty performance in her first conference tournament match, especially with everyone gunning for her (as the MAC Player of the Year). Mary Kurisch had an amazing match; Maddie again anchored our defense and Kristin gave us a great, gutty performance at setter.”
The Huskies have now won 12 of their last 16 contests, defeating EMU three times. Northern Illinois’ 26 wins are the most the program has had since 1998. For more information on NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.
Live stats and live video of all Mid-American Conference volleyball tournament matches are available online at www.MAC-sports.com.