Despite being down 2-1 in the match, the Northern Illinois volleyball team gutted out a five-set win over Missouri State Saturday night at Hammons Student Center to complete a perfect 4-0 weekend and claim MSU’s Dr. Mary Jo Wynn/DoubleTree Hotel Invitational.
The 25-16, 20-25, 17-25, 25-19, 15-13 win moves the Huskies to 7-5 on the season, while the Bears fall to 5-6.
“It was one heck of a match,” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden.
“It was two teams really battling with great rallies and really good team play. The best thing I can take from this weekend is that every time after every match the comments people said to me about how hard we play and how well we play together. It just shows the work we put in, little by little, is paying off. It’s nice to have a really positive weekend.”
Feeling the momentum of three wins in barely over 24 hours, the Huskies cruised to a first set win behind a 15-11 kills, .256-.095 and 5-1 blocking edges. But the match was far from that easy.
In the second set, the teams were tied at 17 before the Bears erupted for an 8-3 run to close it out and tie the match at the break. Then, MSU rode the momentum to an easy win in the third set to put NIU on its heels.
NIU was up to the task, however. With the score tied at 12 in the fourth set, an MSU attack error and kill from senior outside hitter Meghan Romo (Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso) kick started a 13-7 run that forced the decisive fifth set.
A back and forth fifth had the match hinging on a 13-13 tie late in the frame. And that’s when sophomore outside hitter MacKenzie Roddy (San Bernardino, Calif./Cajon) took over, scoring back-to-back kills to win it for NIU.
The most significant factor for NIU in the match was a 15-7 blocking advantage.
Senior middle blocker Mary Kurisch (La Crosse, Wis./West Salem) led the way with nine, giving her 19 on the day after she had 10 in a win over UCONN in the afternoon. Fellow senior middle Sam Grams (Forest Park, Ill./Fenwick) erupted for a career-high eight. The big Huskie block also helped force 34 MSU attack errors – NIU had only 22.
“It has been a focus of our team this year,” Gooden said of the blocking. “It’s nice to see us go out there and put solid practice into work during the game. It’s fun to see a lot of folks make contributions, especially Sam Grams tonight.”
Romo and junior middle Sarah Angelos (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan) paced the offense with 15 kills each, while Roddy had 12 and Kurisch added 10. Freshman setter Alexis Gonzalez (Fresno, Calif./Bullard) racked up 46 assists and 13 digs.
In the back row, senior libero Amber Walker (Juneau, Alaska/Juneau Douglas/Western Oregon) tallied a career-high 33 digs and add three aces to boot. Senior defensive specialist Sue Hayes (Evergreen Park, Ill./Mother McAuley) also reached double figures with 10 digs.
For the tournament, three Huskies were named to the All-Invite Team – Angelos, Walker and Romo. Angelos took home MVP after hitting .413 with a 3.00 kills per set average and 12 blocks. Walker netted 5.07 digs per set and had six aces on the weekend. Romo had a team-high 4.07 kills per set average, 27 digs and 11 blocks.
“Sarah and all the girls on our team try to continue to understand their roles and execute it to the best of their ability,” Gooden said. “She’s done a really good job of working on things and putting time in at practice. She’s doing well both offensively and defensively. She’s working well with our setter Pookie (Alexis Gonzalez) and putting herself in position to score on the block.”
NIU is in the midst of a 14-match road trip over a span of just 23 days. Representing 42 percent of the schedule, the expedition continues at Cedar Falls, Iowa, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 11, as the Huskies face No. 25 Northern Iowa.
For more information on NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.