Nearly two hours after enduring a grueling five-set loss to Wichita State, the Northern Illinois volleyball team gave it all they had but simply ran out of gas on Saturday evening at Victor E. Court against a stout New Mexico State team that has been to the NCAA Tournament five times since 2003.
Motivated by the harsh loss to the Shockers, NIU (1-2) came out motivated and angry against the Aggies (3-0).
Despite going down 4-0 to start the match the Huskies found their rhythm quickly to hold edges in kills (15-9, attack percentage (.312-.059), digs (15-11), and blocks (3-1) for a dominant 25-14 first set win. Sophomore MacKenzie Roddy led the way in the frame with seven kills (.385).
However, after winning a five-set match last night against 2011 NCAA Tournament participant North Dakota State and losing a very close five-set match to another 2011 NCAA team in Wichita State, NIU’s adrenaline started to wear thin and the Aggies capitalized.
With the second set tied 9-9, an attack error gave NMSU the lead and sparked a 16-10 run for NMSU to close out the set 25-19. 10 NIU attack errors and a .182-.026 hitting edge helped the Aggies even the match.
NIU would then have to play from behind in each of the final two sets as the Huskies just couldn’t muster enough energy and focus to overcome a well-rested Aggie squad who scored a quick win over North Dakota State in a noon match earlier in the day. NIU’s attack errors went up to 15 in the third set and NMSU racked up 10 blocks to pull out a 25-16 victory.
In the fourth, the Huskies had 12 attack errors and were blocked five times by NMSU as the Aggies ended the match with a 25-10 win.
For the match, NMSU held large advantages in attack errors (42-18), hitting percentage (.156-.014), and blocks (19-3). Roddy led the Huskies with 11 kills. Freshman setter Alexis “Pookie” Gonzalez tallied 35 assists, eight digs, and an ace. Senior libero Amber Walker and senior defensive specialist Sue Hayes each added 12 digs.
For the weekend, Gonzalez and junior defensive specialist Justine Schepler were named to the NIU Invitational All-Tournament Team. Gonzalez showed she could handle running the offense fresh out of high school, averaging 9.21 assists, 2.43 digs, 0.64 kills, 0.36 aces, and 0.36 blocks per set in her first three NIU matches. Schepler averaged a solid 2.93 digs per set and had only one reception error all weekend.
For a team that lost three major cogs from its 2011 Mid-American Conference championship squad, the Huskies fared well in their opening weekend. They beat an NCAA team from a year ago, had Wichita State beat for a second before an officiating decision turned the tide, and showed they could dominate a team as good as NMSU, who won the NIU Invitational with a perfect showing against stiff competition.
“The [non-conference season] for us is always about learning,” said NIU Head Coach Ray Gooden. “I think we had a really good experience, not only from this match, but from all three matches. I thought we did a real nice job starting off with a positive win against North Dakota State. We battled hard against Wichita State and learned a lot. All three teams [we faced] were really, really good.
“We have to regroup and get ourselves back to play a tough team on Tuesday. But all in all, we had a fairly positive weekend.”
The Huskies return to action on Tuesday, Aug. 28, with a 7 PM CT meeting against Green Bay at home before embarking upon a 14-match road trip.