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Top-seeded Huskie volleyball beats Ball State, advances to MAC Championship match Sunday

November 19, 2011

NIU Huskies volleyball teamThe No. 1-seeded Northern Illinois volleyball team took down No. 4 Ball State 3-1 Saturday afternoon at SPIRE Institute to advance to the Mid-American Conference Tournament championship match for the second straight season.

NIU’s (27-5) fifth appearance in the league’s title match will be at noon Sunday, Nov. 20, against the winner of the No. 2 Ohio-No. 6 Central Michigan match.

The Huskies beat Ohio in their only meeting this season and took down CMU twice during conference play. In the regular season, NIU and BSU (24-7) as each defended its home court.

Playing at a neutral site, it was the Huskies who proved to be the better team as they accumulated healthy advantages in kills (67-48) and hitting percentage (.301-.209) for NIU’s 14th straight win.

The streak is the longest since an 18-game run in 2001, which is also the last time the Huskies won the MAC Tournament.

“I think it’s awesome [to be in the MAC championship two straight years],” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden as NIU tied its win total from a year ago, tying the school’s fourth most wins in a season. “We had to play a great match against a really good Ball State team. [During the regular season], they won at their place, we won at our place. My hat’s off to {BSU] Coach [Steve] Shondell. They played great today. We were fortunate enough to score some big points when we needed to.”

MacKenzie Roddy

MacKenzie Roddy

The Huskies opened with a strong first set, winning most of the long rallies and outhitting the Cardinals .314-.143. Two-time reigning MAC Player of the Year Lauren Wicinski (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) got the match started for NIU with a kill and moments later served up an ace to give NIU a 6-3 lead. A few plays later, MacKenzie Roddy (San Bernardino, Calif./Cajon) hammered one down to increase the lead to 13-8 and force a Ball State timeout.

Out of the break, NIU continued to score and claimed a 17-10 lead after an ace from first team All-MAC selection Mary Kurisch (La Crosse, Wis./West Salem). Ball State would close within five points twice but would get no closer as NIU won 25-17 to take a 1-0 match lead.

NIU continued to play well in the second set and jumped out to a 7-3 lead after a Kurisch kill. However after a Ball State timeout, the Cardinals put together a 12-4 run to take a 15-11 lead. Out of an NIU timeout, the Huskies responded with a 10-5 spurt to reclaim a 21-20 edge following a kill from second team All-MAC selection Allison McGlaughlin (Morton, Ill./Morton). But the Cardinals answered with a kill and put away an NIU overpass to turn the table for a 22-21 lead. After the teams exchanged points, Ball State block a slide by second team All-MAC selection Sarah Angelos (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan). Wicinski kept NIU alive with a kill in the next sequence, but the Cardinals came back with a kill to win the set 25-23 and even the match at the break.

In the critical swing set, NIU got off to another fast start. With a 7-4 lead after a McGlaughlin kill, Angelos put away an overpass to force a Ball State timeout. The Cardinals then rallied to take an 11-10 edge before a 4-0 NIU run put the Huskies on top again, 14-11, thanks to a pair of BSU miscues. A few plays later, Amber Walker (Juneau, Alaska/Juneau Douglas/Western Oregon) served up an ace for a 22-18 advantage. Ball State countered with a kill on the next play, but the Huskies would score the final three points on a Wicinski kill, BSU error, and Kurisch kill to win 25-19. In taking a 2-1 lead in the match, NIU outhit the Cardinals .250-.206 and racked up an 18-12 kills edge.

Smelling victory, the Huskies saved their best for last in the fourth set, outhitting the Cardinals (.400-.222) and totaling an 18-12 edge in kills. Up 7-4 after a BSU error and timeout, NIU increased its lead a few plays later after kills from Wicinski and Roddy. Down 14-9, the Cardinals called another timeout to regroup, but it did nothing to stop the Huskies.

Kayla Zeno

Kayla Zeno

Not too far after the break, NIU took even more command after a diving pass by Kayla Zeno (Lake Elmo, Minn./Stillwater Area) led to a long rally ending in a McGlaughlin and Angelos combo block. The amazing sequence sent the Huskies and their faithful into an uproar, and with Ball State on its heels, NIU finished the set 25-16.

Wicinski led both sides in kills with 18, but it was Roddy who stole the show. The rookie opened the match a perfect 8-for-8 and ended with a season-high 15 kills while hitting a superb .684, the fourth highest hitting percentage in MAC Tournament history.

“I thought Roddy did a great job for us,” said Gooden. “She was able to progress throughout the year and it was great for her to play some of her best volleyball at a critical time.”

Kurisch also etched her name into the MAC Tournament record book with the sixth-best hitting performance as she hit .647 with no errors to total 11 kills. She also added a pair of aces. Angelos reached double figures in kills as well with 10.

“We talked about it at the beginning of the year that we did not want to be a one-horse team,” Gooden said. “Whether it be Mary, Sarah, Allison, or MacKenzie, they all have done a good job all year of scoring big points for us at different times.”

Setting the pace for the offense, Kristin Hoffman (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) handed out 49 assists, had two aces, and tallied three kills on seven errorless swings.

In the back row, Walker notched a game-high 23 digs. Justine Schepler (Sycamore, Ill./Sycamore) also chipped in with 12 digs.

Live stats and streaming video will be available for the championship match on The contest will also air on SportsTime Ohio TV network.

For more information on NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit