Behind a strong performance from its outside hitters, the Northern Illinois volleyball team won its Mid-American Conference home opener 3-1 (22-25, 25-19, 25-21, 25-17) over Ball State Friday night at Victor E. Court.
In their first home match since August 28th the Huskies (11-8, 2-1 MAC) held edges in kills (55-46), hitting percentage (.280-.240) and digs (52-49) to top the Cardinals (9-7, 2-1 MAC) for the third straight time and take a 28-27 lead in the all-time series.
“It’s great to be back at home,” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden.
“I thought we had to play really well to beat a solid Ball State team. It was our first time home in a month and our first home conference match; it was their first time on the road in conference – so both teams were trying to feel each other out in the first set. We were about a play away from tying it at 23 [in the first set], but they were able to pull it out.
“We did a really good job after that of controlling our side. Coach [Steve] Shondell is a great coach with a great program. For us to defend our home court tonight was really good for the Huskies tonight. We appreciate the support from all the fans, student-athletes, community – it was great being back at Victor E. Court.”
Senior outside Meghan Romo (Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso) and sophomore outside MacKenzie Roddy (San Bernardino, Calif./Cajon) combined for 34 kills, 19 digs and hit .320. Romo paced the Huskies with 19 kills and a .378 attacking clip. Roddy hit .316 with 15 putaways, adding 12 digs to boot.
Running the offense, freshman Alexis Gonzalez (Fresno, Calif./Bullard) was stellar as well. The rookie setter had 46 assists, four digs, three kills, a season-high-tying three aces and a block.
Defensively, junior Justine Schepler (Sycamore, Ill./Sycamore) notched a team-high 14 digs. Junior middle blocker Sarah Angelos (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan) led the front row with a season-high-tying five blocks.
Also figuring into the mix was a loud crowd at Victor E. Court as Ball State missed on 16 serves, feeling the heat from the Huskie faithful.
A close first set went the Cardinals’ way as Schepler just missed digging up a Ball State kill that made it a 24-22 lead for BSU. An ace on the next play then gave NIU a 1-0 match deficit.
Finding their rhythm again at home, the Huskies opened up a 16-10 lead in the second frame after a kill from Roddy and combo block from Roddy and Angelos. NIU kept scoring from there as senior middle Mary Kurisch (La Crosse, Wis./West Salem) scored the final two Huskie points.
After giving up an early 10-5 lead in the third, NIU took advantage of three poor BSU serves. With the Huskies ahead 20-18, the Cardinals notched three straight kills but failed to serve the ball in each time on the ensuing play. Then, a ball handling error set NIU up with set-point and a Cardinal attack error swung the match in the Huskies’ favor, 2-1.
Feeling all the momentum, NIU charged out to a 13-7 lead after back-to-back kills from Romo, and Ball State had no answer. The closest the Cardinals came to coming back was at 21-17 but Roddy and Gonzalez countered with kills to end the threat.
For more information on NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.