Facing a raucous crowd at WMU’s University Arena, the Northern Illinois volleyball team defeated Western Michigan Thursday night, 3-1, to clinch the Mid-American Conference‘s West Division and regular season crown.
This is NIU’s first West Division title since 2006 and their first MAC regular season title since 1998. It is also their first outright MAC title since 1997. The win was also NIU’s winning streak to 12 matches, while serving as WMU’s first conference loss in Kalamazoo since Oct. 20, 2007.
“We knew we were going to play a great team in Western at home, whose had a really good run (at University Arena),” said Huskie head coach Ray Gooden. “It was the first time in a while we had a match here that meant something. At the beginning of the match, we came out a little uptight and didn’t play as well as we needed to. After that, we were able to play a really good match.”
“It was a battle. Every single set was a battle and we made the positive plays we needed to be successful.”
Sophomore Lauren Wicinski paced the Huskies with a double-double, registering 23 kills and 11 digs. Replicating that feat was Allison McGlaughlin, who recorded 14 kills and 12 digs in the victory. Amber Walker led NIU with 25 digs on the night and Sarah Angelos made 11 kills.
As a team, the Huskies held advantages in kills (60-49), hitting percentage (.171-.156) and digs (81-74) against the Broncos.
After both teams split the first six points of the opening set, the Broncos went on a 6-1 run to grab a 9-4 lead. From there, the Huskies failed to gain any momentum after managing a hitting percentage of .081 and committing nine attack errors to give WMU a 25-17 set victory.
Northern would bounce back in the second set with a 26-24 win to knot the match up at halftime. With WMU leading 17-13 midway through the second set, the Huskies bounced back with a 10-3 run to take a 23-20 lead behind three kills from McGlaughlin and two key attack errors from the Broncos. The hosts would tie the set at 24 before the Huskies emerged victorious behind two more Bronco errors.
“We were more aggressive,” Gooden said about the difference in the second set. “We served the ball better. We passed the ball better. We were much better on offense and were able to control the ball. That put pressure on Western.”
The Broncos came out firing in the third set, though, racing out to an early 9-2 lead. NIU would battle back to bring the deficit to within one at 11-10, but WMU brought the lead back to six with a 7-2 run for an 18-12 lead. Undeterred, the Huskies fought back to tie the match at 22 courtesy of two kills each from Mary Kurisch and McGlaughlin. NIU carry that momentum to a 25-23 set victory that was capped off with a Wicinski kill.
Unlike the previous three sets, NIU would use an early .400-.000 hitting percentage advantage to take a 7-4 lead in set four. Both sides continued to exchange points before the Broncos tied the match at 15. After a pair of kills by Kurisch and MacKenzie Roddy, WMU would return to tie and subsequently take a 18-17 lead. The two squads continued to battle back and forth until, with the score knotted at 22, Wicinski tallied three kills among the final four points to clinch a 25-23 set win and the match.
“It’s great for the girls and the department,” Gooden said. “We’re working really hard to be as successful as we possibly can. This group has worked together since day one for us to get this result.”
NIU wraps up their regular season Saturday, Nov. 12, when they travel to Ohio to face Bowling Green. The match begins at 1 p.m. in the Stroh Center.
For more information about NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.