Fittingly, Northern Illinois standout sophomore Lauren Wicinski put together one of her best matches as she became the fastest Huskie to total 1,000 career kills in NIU’s 3-0 sweep of Western Michigan Thursday night at Victor E. Court in a Mid-American Conference West Division matchup.
“I was joking with [Lauren] after the match that for the first time in a while it looked like she was having fun,” NIU head coach Ray Gooden said.
“I know there are people on this team that feel the stress of the season as it wears on, and she does, but she, along with the other girls, continue to do amazing things. She had 25 kills tonight, but it wasn’t on 100 swings or anything along those lines. Credit goes to her for scoring those points but also to Kristin Hoffman for running the offense and our middle blockers. She just went out there and did her thing. It was great to see her stay in rhythm and not really have a care out there.”
Coming off a career-best 39-kill performance at Toledo last Saturday, Wicinski notched 25 kills on only 36 swings, committing just one error. The NCAA kills leader’s .667 attack percentage easily eclipsed her previous career high of .550 and helped give NIU (14-5, 3-2 MAC) its first 3-0 win over WMU (13-5, 3-2 MAC) since Nov. 3, 2001.
“Every time we play in our division, it’s going to be a war,” Gooden said. “It’s not really coach speak; it’s the truth. We knew tonight was going to be a critical match not just for tonight, but for down the road as well. It was really good for us to go out there and defend our home court.”
Needing just 54 matches to do so, Wicinski’s 1,000th career kill came in the second set on a pipe shot that hit the top of the net and trickled to the ground untouched, leaving NIU down 17-15 at the time. Several plays later, the 2010 MAC Player of the Year would serve the Huskies back into the set for an eventual match-changing win.
“[Reaching 1,000 career kills is] special for her and special for the people she’s played with,” Gooden said. “It’s been very impressive to see what she can do when the ball is in her hands. Night after night people know she’s a top player but she still finds ways to go out there and score, and score with ease.”
In moving over .500 in MAC play and recording their 10th sweep, the Huskies used proficiency in hitting to down the Broncos. NIU tallied 52 kills and hit .336 while holding WMU to 40 kills and a .196 attack percentage.
Trailing for a majority of the second set, the Huskies overcame a 20-16 deficit with an 8-4 run with help from three Wicinski kills.
Down 24-22, Wicinski took over with precise serving that led to a pair of Bronco hitting errors that tied the set. Then fellow 1,000-kill club member Allison McGlaughlin finished the set with three straight kills to give NIU a commanding 2-0 advantage in the match with a 27-25 comeback win.
NIU fought from behind in the third set as well. Down 12-8, Sarah Angelos got the Huskies going again with a kill following a timeout and Mary Kurisch added a solo block. After a WMU kill, Wicinski put down a pair of kills sandwiched between a Bronco error to tie the score at 13-13. The teams then exchanged points twice before two more Western Michigan miscues gave NIU an 18-16 lead that the Huskies would not relinquish. Up 23-21 out of a timeout, the 1,000-kill duo of Wicinski and McGlaughlin notched emphatic kills to finish the match 25-22.
McGlaughlin also reached double figures in kills with 12, while senior classmate Kristin Hoffman picked up 46 assists as she set the 1,000th kill for a Huskie for the third time in her career. Previously, Hoffman had set up the 1,000th kill for McGlaughlin and Meagan Schoenrock (2006-09).
Defensively, Amber Walker led NIU with 11 digs.
The Huskies return to action at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8, with a home match against Miami (Ohio).