The Northern Illinois volleyball team was denied in its pursuit of a 2-0 start in the Mid-American Conference as Eastern Michigan won in four sets on Saturday night at Victor E. Court.
The loss snapped a four-match winning streak for the Huskies (12-4, 1-1 MAC) and helped the Eagles (13-3, 1-1 MAC) avoid a 0-2 start in league play.
“Every match is going to be difficult [in league play],” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. “Eastern was angry from their performance last night at Western and made up for it. Our team, for the first time, got pushed and we didn’t get ourselves back to doing the things that we normally do. They really challenged us and knocked us out of whack. I give credit to Kim [Berringer] and her squad because they took it to us.”
With NIU out of its comfort zone, the Eagles managed to hold the Huskies to a .159 hitting percentage, the second worst performance of the year for NIU. Meanwhile, EMU, who entered the match with a sub-.200 hitting percentage, hit at a .241 clip and took advantage of the Huskies’ season-high 32 hitting errors.
The first two sets went back and forth and resulted in a split going into the break.
In the opening stanza, Allison McGlaughlin erased an EMU set point chance with a kill, tying the score at 24. Then Sarah Angelos notched a kill to give NIU a chance to grab the set. Back-to-back kills by EMU flipped the table again, but Angelos answered with another putaway to tie the score at 26. However, the Eagles fired back with two more kills to take an important advantage in the match and keep the Huskies on their heels with a 28-26 win.
Down 15-10 at one point during the second set, NIU rallied back to knot the score at 18 and take a 19-18 lead after consecutive kills by Lauren Wicinski.
A few plays later, a Mary Kurisch kill broke a 23-23 tie and gave NIU a chance at set point. However, two straight kills by the Eagles gave EMU an opportunity to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the match. After Angelos came up big again with a kill, the teams exchanged points to create another tie, 26-26. Then Wicinski’s putaway and an EMU error gave NIU a 28-26 win.
Feeling momentum slipping away, the Eagles countered strongly in the third set by grabbing a 3-0 lead. The Eagles then continued to score while NIU was unable to keep pace, resulting in a 25-15 win for EMU.
In the fourth set, EMU got off to an even better start as the Eagles jumped out to a 6-0 lead. NIU gradually chipped away at the deficit and got as close as one point after two straight Wicinski kills made the score 15-14, but the hole was too deep to dig out of. Following an EMU timeout, the Eagles regained the momentum by taking a 20-16 lead. That push was good enough to help the Eagles close out the match 25-20 and end a six-match losing streak against the Huskies.
“They had big runs in the beginnings of the third and fourth sets that we just couldn’t recover from,” Gooden said. “We just couldn’t turn the right points. Eastern turned those points. We had a chance but just couldn’t get points when we needed to get to that fifth set.”
Wicinski led NIU with a season-high 27 kills and added 11 digs for her eighth double-double of the season. McGlaughlin (17 digs, 10 kills) and Kristin Hoffman (49 assists, 10 digs) also tallied double-doubles. Angelos turned in a season-high in kills as well with 13, hitting .500 to boot.
Next up for the Huskies is their first MAC road swing as they take on Ball State at 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30, and Toledo at 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1.
For more information on NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.