The Northern Illinois volleyball team dropped a 3-1 decision to No. 25 Miami in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Iowa State’s Hilton Coliseum on Friday night.
The loss in NIU’s sixth NCAA Tournament appearance was its first at a neutral site.
Previously, the Huskies were 2-0 in neutral site matches. NIU is now 3-6 overall in the NCAA Tournament.
The Hurricanes’ previous NCAA experience, size, and varied shot selection gave NIU fits all night as Miami racked up a 12-4 blocking advantage and held sizeable discrepancies in kills (63-56), hitting percentage (.338-.200), and digs (80-66).
“I thought Miami did a really nice job tonight of playing experienced volleyball,” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. “They have seniors and other players with NCAA experience and did a nice job. I felt like our lack of experience [in the NCAA Tournament], myself included, sometimes had us riding the [emotional] rollercoaster.
“I’m really proud of what we’ve done to get to this point. I wish we could’ve played a better match, but Miami did a good job of staying one step ahead of us.”
The Huskies could not have opened the match much better as Sarah Angelos (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan) hammered down three of the match’s first four points to give NIU a 3-1 lead.
A few moments later, MacKenzie Roddy‘s (San Bernardino, Calif./Cajon) second straight kill put the Huskies ahead 7-2, and NIU had all the momentum.
But then a long Miami serve completely changed the course of the first set.
With NIU up 8-4, ACC Player of the Year Lane Carico served a ball that appeared to hit a few inches past the endline and the line judge called it so.
However, the head official overruled the call and gave Miami credit for an ace.
The call caused a minor delay in action, completely halted NIU’s momentum, and sparked Miami as the Hurricanes went on a 6-0 run to take a 10-8 lead. The Huskies never recovered as Miami ended the first set on a 21-9 run to win 25-17. Miami used a .481-.194 hitting advantage to take a 1-0 lead.
“[Overruling] happens all the time,” Gooden said of the official’s call. “You’re looking for a break here or there. Sometimes you get a break and take advantage of it. We just didn’t respond well to it. They ran off eight or nine points in that stretch, and that’s really on us. We had to take care of the ball better.”
The second set started similarly for NIU but ended differently.
The Huskies scored the first four points of the set and led 7-3 following an Allison McGlaughlin (Morton, Ill./Morton) kill. Miami responded again, taking an 11-10 lead a few minutes later. However, the Huskies remained strong and composed as the teams matched each other point for point until a Lauren Wicinski (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) kill put NIU on top 18-16, forcing a Miami timeout.
Several plays later, Wicinski struck again to give NIU a 22-18 edge to force another Hurricane timeout. But the break did nothing to stop the Huskies who went on for a 25-21 win to even the match at the break. Helping NIU claim the set was a .310-.225 edge in attack percentage.
In the swing set, Miami came out firing to take a 6-2 lead to force an early NIU timeout. Two Hurricane points later, NIU called another timeout to try to regroup and slow down the Hurricanes but it was to no avail. Miami would go on to win the set 25-12 behind an 18-8 kills edge and .375-.075 hitting advantage.
NIU fell behind 3-0 in the fourth set, but crawled back to take a 7-5 lead after a Roddy kill. Miami came right back with a 6-1 run to grab an 11-8 lead and would extend it to 15-10 after a block. Needing to respond to stay alive, the Huskies did so with a 7-1 spurt that was capped by a Roddy-Mary Kurisch (La Crosse, Wis./West Salem) combo block.
A few plays later, back-to-back kills put Miami on top again, 21-19. After an NIU timeout, the Huskies would fight back to tie the set at 23 following kills from Wicinski and Kurisch.
Then, with a chance to set up set point, the Huskies couldn’t handle a blocked ball which led to a net violation. Wicinski countered with a kill to even the score at 24, but Miami ended the match with two consecutive kills for a 26-24 win.
Wicinski led the Huskies with 23 kills for her 16th match of the season with 20 or more putaways.
Despite the season coming to an end, the Huskies walk away with quite a list of accomplishments.
NIU won the Mid-American Conference West Division title for the first time since 2006; won the MAC regular season title for the first time since 2001; and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001. Individually, the Huskies featured the MAC Coach of the Year Gooden, MAC Player of the Year Wicinski, MAC Setter of the Year Hoffman, and three other All-MAC selections: Angelos, Kurisch, and McGlaughlin.
Looking into next year, the Huskies lose Hoffman and McGlaughlin to graduation but will return the rest of the 15 players that helped NIU enjoy such a successful season.
For more information on NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.