The No. 1-seeded Northern Illinois volleyball team swept No. 8 Bowling Green in its Mid-American Conference Tournament quarterfinals match at SPIRE Institute Friday afternoon to advance to the Saturday semifinals.
In the Huskies’ (26-5) second straight MAC semifinals appearance, and fifth overall, they will face No. 4 Ball State (24-6) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
In eliminating the Falcons (19-12), the Huskies showed why they are one of the top five offenses in the country. NIU managed to significantly outhit BGSU .434-.101, which led to a 43-26 kills discrepancy. The Huskies also served tough with nine aces to the Falcons’ three.
“I thought it was great,” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden of his team’s 14th straight win, the most since an 18-game streak in 2001. “Our team has been playing well, playing together. We came in with a lot of pressure [as the No. 1 seed]. We came in with a lot of energy today. It was awesome. We played against a really energetic Bowling Green team with Denise (Van De Walle) in her last season. It was a really good match for our team.”
After grinding out a 0-2 comeback win just last Saturday against the same Bowling Green team, the Huskies wasted no time with their MAC title hopes on the line. NIU came out firing on all cylinders with a 25-12 win in the first set.
Three kills from two-time reigning MAC Player of the Year Lauren Wicinski (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) helped the Huskies open a 7-2 lead and force an early Bowling Green timeout. But the Huskies were too much to handle and never slowed down. Wicinski tallied a whopping 10 of NIU’s 16 kills in the stanza, committing just one error on 14 swings (.643). As a team, NIU outhit the Falcons .483-.067.
The Huskies continued to roll in the second set, grabbing a 14-5 lead and forcing another Falcon timeout. As a result of the pressure NIU’s efficient offense put on BGSU, the Falcons had seven hitting errors, there receiving errors, and two serve errors. In the 25-16 win, the Huskies held a wide hitting margin (.429-.136) to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the match.
In the third set, NIU had to work a bit harder to get the win as Bowling Green grab a 1-0 lead, its first in the match, and kept the one-point edge until a Wicinski kill put the Huskies up 5-4 and started an 8-4 run. Out of a BGSU timeout, NIU extended its lead to 17-10 after a Wicinski ace. From there, the Huskies closed out the match with a 25-17 win.
Wicinski led the Huskies with 19 kills and hit an astounding .533, adding three aces to boot.
First team All-MAC selection Mary Kurisch (La Crosse, Wis./West Salem) hit even better, totaling a .583 attack percentage and seven kills. Second team All-MAC selection Sarah Angelos (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan) and MacKenzie Roddy (San Bernardino, Calif./Cajon) were right between both as each had a .545 hitting percentage and six kills.
Running the offense, MAC Setter of the Year Kristin Hoffman dished out 37 assists.
The second straight NIU win over BGSU ended Falcon Head Coach Denise Van De Walle’s outstanding career as she announced at the beginning of the season that this would her last. She walks away as the MAC’s all-time wins leader with 527 victories.
NIU and Ball State split their regular season series this year with both teams winning at home. NIU won the last meeting, which came in a 3-0 decision Nov. 5 at Victor E. Court. Live stats for the semifinal match will be available on MAC-Sports.com.
For more information on NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.