The 33-match slate features 12 home matches, nine matches against 2011 NCAA Tournament participants, and three matches versus 2011 conference regular season champions. The season begins at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24, against North Dakota State as part of the annual NIU Invitational (Aug. 24-26).
Coming off of back-to-back Mid-American Conference Tournament championship appearances and the first regular season MAC championship and NCAA Tournament bid since 2001, head coach Ray Gooden’s Huskies are sticking their mantra – in order to be one of the top teams in the country, you have to play the top teams in the country.
The ramped-up schedule over the past two years has produced results as NIU finished with a No. 57 RPI in 2010 and a No. 17 RPI in 2011, and Gooden is hoping for the same in 2012.
“Without a doubt, this is one of the most challenging schedules we’ve put together here at Northern,” said Gooden. “It’s based off our past success but we are also looking to build toward the future. In order to be one of the best, we have to compete against the best. This schedule reflects that. We are excited to play some of the nation’s best volleyball programs not only to find out what we have in non-conference play, but to prepare for the MAC.”
As has been the trend over the last six years, the season starts with the NIU Invitational on Aug. 24-26, which will feature matches against NDSU (2011 NCAA Tournament, 2011 RPI Top-50, 2011 Summit League champion), Wichita State (2011 NCAA Tournament, 2011 RPI Top-50), and New Mexico State.
A couple days after the NIU Invitational, the Huskies host Green Bay (Aug. 28) to wrap up the longest home stand of the season (four matches), and then embark upon a daunting road trip that will include 14 matches over a span of just 23 days.
“We’ve always been fortunate to start the season at home,” Gooden said.
“But we always know with our first weekend at home, we will play a large chunk of non-conference matches on the road. We are going to have to do it away from Victor E. Court. Each part of that trip presents a different challenge for us, whether it be midweek match or a weekend tournament.”
Representing 42 percent of the schedule, the excursion begins in Stockton, Calif., at the Community Bankers Classic, hosted by Pacific on Aug 31-Sept. 1. The Huskies will face Nevada, Portland State, and the host Tigers.
Following a quick trip to Illinois Chicago (Sept. 4), NIU will head out to Springfield, Mo., for the Missouri State Invitational on Sept. 7-8. NIU’s foes there are New Orleans, Nebraska-Omaha, Connecticut, and host Missouri State (2011 NCAA Tournament, 2011 RPI Top-50).
Three days later (Sept. 11), the Huskies will visit Northern Iowa (2011 NCAA Tournament, 2011 AVCA Top-25, 2011 RPI Top-50, 2011 Missouri Valley Conference champion) in Cedar Falls.
Then on Sept. 14, NIU will travel to Edwardsville, Ill., to match-up with Southern Illinois-Edwardsville the day before participating in Bradley’s CEFCU Classic in Peoria, Ill. The tournament will have the Huskies playing both Long Beach State (2011 NCAA Tournament, 2011 RPI Top-50, 2011 Big West Conference champion) and Bradley on Sept. 15.
The trip concludes with the beginning of MAC play, as the Huskies venture east to open the conference slate against Central Michigan (2011 NCAA Tournament, 2011 MAC Tournament champion) (Sept. 21) and Eastern Michigan (Sept. 22).
Similar to last season, the Huskies’ conference weekends alternate between home and road. NIU’s home MAC matches include meetings with Ball State (2011 NCAA Tournament, 2011 RPI Top-50) (Sept. 28), Toledo (Sept. 29), Western Michigan (2011 NCAA Tournament, 2011 RPI Top-50) (Oct. 4), Buffalo (Oct. 12), Akron (Oct. 13), EMU (Oct. 26), CMU (Oct. 27), and Bowling Green (Nov. 10).
For the second straight year, the MAC Tournament will be held at SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Ohio, on Nov. 16-18.
In lockstep with their mantra, the Huskies will play a third straight post-MAC Tournament match against Marquette (2011 NCAA Tournament, 2011 RPI Top-50) in Milwaukee on Nov. 24. Although NIU isn’t guaranteed a bid to the NCAA Tournament, Gooden knows in order to be considered one of the best teams in the country, you must prepare as if you will still be playing at the end of November and into December.
“The idea behind this series is that both our programs our playing for the same goal [to make the NCAA Tournament],” Gooden said. “In Year One, both teams were on the outside looking in. Last year we both secured at-large bids. This year, we are looking for more of the same. Hopefully it’s a good prep for postseason play.”
All home matches are played at the NIU Convocation Center’s Victor E. Court. For ticket information, call (815) 752-6800 or learn more online.
For more information on NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.