The Northern Illinois volleyball team came away with a split in its Mid-American Conference opening weekend as the Huskies (10-8, 1-1 MAC) were swept by Eastern Michigan 25-22, 25-19, 25-19 at the Convocation Center Saturday night.
In a matchup of the league’s top two teams this season in terms of wins, the decision went to the Eagles (11-7, 1-1 MAC) as they outhit NIU .226 to .173 and held a serving advantage of four aces to one and two serving errors to NIU’s five.
“Eastern Michigan was just one step ahead of us in every phase tonight,” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. “They were able to turn defense into offensive opportunities. They did a good job of that and serving and passing more consistently than us.”
Marking the end of a 23-day, 14-match road trip that accounted for 42 percent of the NIU schedule, the Huskies walked away with a solid 8-6 record on the excursion as they continue to develop. Now, NIU finally gets a chance to play at home again as it begins a three-match home stand next weekend.
“Every night has its own type of storylines and we continue to work on how to put it all together as consistently as possible,” Gooden said. “We feel OK with a split on the weekend. After not being home for a month, the trip was more positive than negative. We have to continue to learn and grow and put our best foot forward every night.”
Entering the match, NIU had won seven of the last eight contests against the Eagles but EMU proved to be too strong on the night. The Eagles opened this first set with a 10-3 lead. However, much like last night in their 3-1 win at Central Michigan and like the Huskies have done all season, NIU fought back to tie it at 17 after a kill from sophomore MacKenzie Roddy (San Bernardino, Calif./Cajon). Then, a kill from senior Sam Grams (Forest Park, Ill./Fenwick) put NIU ahead 18-17. But the Huskies couldn’t stay over the hump as EMU responded with an 8-4 run to take the set.
In the next two sets, the Eagles opened up 11-5 and 14-9 leads, respectively, that left NIU too deep a hole to dig out of. The three-set loss was just the fourth of the season for NIU.
Senior Mary Kurisch (La Crosse, Wis./West Salem) led the Huskie with 10 kills and six blocks to go along with a .409 attack percentage. Freshman Alexis Gonzalez (Fresno, Calif./Bullard) handed out 28 assists and had 14 digs, adding four kills to boot.
Senior Amber Walker (Juneau, Alaska/Juneau Douglas/Western Oregon) and junior Justine Schepler (Sycamore, Ill./Sycamore) led the defense with 14 digs apiece. Senior Sue Hayes (Evergreen Park, Ill./Mother McAuley) and Roddy each had 10 digs.
NIU returns to Victor E. Court for its MAC home opener as the Huskies will host Ball State at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28, and Toledo at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29.
For more information on NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.