Despite trailing 2-0 to Bowling Green at the break, the Northern Illinois volleyball team bounced back to win the final three sets at the Stroh Center Saturday afternoon to end the Mid-American Conference regular season with the most wins (14) since 2001.
The win for NIU (25-5, 14-2 MAC) marks its 13th straight win, which is the longest streak for the program since 2001 when the Huskies rattled off an NIU-record 18 victories in a row.
Pushing the Huskies to a fifth set for just the third time all season, Bowling Green (19-11, 6-10 MAC) gave NIU a hard-fought effort on senior night and Head Coach Denise Van De Walle’s last home match. Prior to the season, the MAC’s all-time wins leader (527) announced her retirement effective at the end of her 29th season.
“All you can really do after that match is be very thankful that our team was able to settle itself down,” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. “Bowling Green was great today. We knew they’d be on an emotional high with it being Denise’s last home match and with their senior day.”
After losing the first two sets 25-23 and 25-22, the Huskies found themselves in the locker room during the break needing to regroup to avoid getting swept for just the second time all year. And out of the break, the Huskies came out a different team.
“It was really good for us to come out there and settle ourselves down [after the second set],” Gooden said. “We were able to twist to win the third set. From there, we were able to get a lot better control. It was a great match, and we know that we will have to do it again against them next week.”
In the first two sets, the Huskies posted hitting percentages of .270 and .188. But over the final three stanzas NIU hit at or above .300 (.355, .344, .300) and outkilled the Falcons each set, 16-14, 14-8, 8-6.
By the end of the match, the Huskies held a .289-.179 hitting edge and racked up a 12-5.5 blocking discrepancy, the largest difference and most blocks of the season.
In a close third set, NIU held a 22-20 lead following an ace by Lauren Wicinski (Geneva, Ill./Geneva). However, two Huskie errors tied the game at 22. From there, the teams exchanged points until back-to-back Falcon errors gave NIU a 27-25 win, and new life in the match.
Feeling the tide turning, the Huskies opened the fourth set with a 7-1 run behind three kills and a block by Wicinski. With Bowling Green reeling, NIU pushed ahead for a 25-15 win to force a fifth set.
The Huskies nearly did the same thing in the final stanza, getting off to a 7-2 start this time. Then, two straight combo blocks by Wicinski and Mary Kurisch (La Crosse, Wis./West Salem) put NIU ahead 9-2. The Falcons would eventually close within two points, 12-10, but the initial deficit was too much to overcome.
Sarah Angelos (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan) answered the call with two consecutive kills on slides and the teams traded serve errors to end the set 15-11, giving NIU its second win in three five-set matches and leaving the Huskies a perfect 6-0 against the MAC East Division this season.
Kurisch led the offense with 16 kills and a .448 hitting percentage, adding six blocks to boot. Wicinski also had 16 kills, turning in 10 digs, a career-best seven blocks, and three aces. Allison McGlaughlin (Morton, Ill./Morton) reached double figures in kills as well with 14 and was one dig shy of a double-double. Angelos was the most efficient with eight kills on 14 swings with no errors for a .571 attack percentage. She also had five blocks, tying her season high.
While running the offense, Kristin Hoffman (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) led the team with 16 digs. The nation’s assists leader also had 51 assists and four kills on seven swings with no errors. Justine Schepler (Sycamore, Ill./Sycamore) was right behind Hoffman with 15 digs. Amber Walker (Juneau, Alaska/Juneau Douglas/Western Oregon) added 12 digs and a pair of aces.
Improving to 12-1 on the road, NIU ended the regular season with its best road record in program history. The previous best was a 5-1 mark during the 1972-73 season.
Next up for NIU is the MAC Tournament Nov. 17-20 at SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Ohio. As regular season league champions for the first time since 2001, the Huskies will be the No. 1 seed. NIU’s first postseason match will be at 3:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 18, against No. 8 Bowling Green.
For more information on NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.