It wasn’t easy, but the Northern Illinois volleyball team gutted out a comeback 23-25, 25-18, 18-25, 25-23, 15-10 win Saturday night at Victor E. Court over Akron in a cross-divisional Mid-American Conference meeting.
The Huskies (15-9, 6-2 MAC) used slim kills (59-54), digs (85-81) and blocks (13-11) edges to nip the Zips (10-10, 3-5 MAC) for the ninth straight time.
“I first want to congratulate (Akron head coach) Ron (Arenz) and his team – we’ve watch them on tape a few times and they are a good team and play incredibly hard,” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. “We knew were going to have to play our best to win. I don’t know if we played our best, but we grinded it out as a team.”
Coming up on the winning side for the fifth time in their last six matches at home, the Huskies truly had to earn this one. After letting a 20-18 lead slip away in the first set, NIU bounced back with a strong second set win. The Huskies used a 14-9 run to start the frame and a .294-.128 hitting edge to knot the match at the break.
In the swing set, NIU came out flat as the Zips scored the first five points. NIU closed the gap to 17-15 later but would get no closer, leaving the Huskies with their backs against the wall at home.
But winning in five is nothing new to the Huskies this year as they are now 4-1 in five-setters.
In a must-win fourth set, NIU jumped out to a 19-10 lead and looked as if a fifth set was rapidly approaching. However, a late 11-3 run by the Zips left NIU with just a 22-21 lead. Needing a point in the worst way, sophomore outside hitter MacKenzie Roddy (San Bernardino, Calif./Cajon) scored a kill and senior outside Meghan Romo(Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso) followed suit on the next play.
After two Huskie attack errors from the duo, Romo put an emphatic end to the set with a shot down the line to force a match-deciding fifth set.
With both teams fatigued and needing to wipe the court with a towel after nearly every point in the final two stanzas, it was Akron that struck first in the fifth. The Zips marched out to a 4-1 lead thanks to three Huskie errors. As NIU did all night, though, it fought back to tie it at 6-6 following kills from Roddy and Romo.
Then, three straight NIU attack errors put the Huskies in a 9-6 hole.
Out of a timeout, Akron missed on the ensuing serve to end the run. After the teams exchanged points, freshman setter Alexis Gonzalez (Fresno, Calif./Bullard) took over with her serve. The rookie used a variety of top spin jump serves to put all sorts of pressure on the Zips, who struggled to cleanly pass Gonzalez’s bullets. Getting Akron out of system helped the Huskies end the match on an 8-0 run in front of a frenzied homecoming crowd.
“Pookie came out with her serve toward the end for a great run,” Gooden said. “I thought our bumpers did a great job tonight, keeping balls alive. All in all, it was about our team and it was great to finish up the home stand on a positive note.”
Roddy led NIU with 17 kills and added a career-high 19 digs and season-best four blocks. Romo tallied 16 kills and seven digs. Middle blockers Sarah Angelos (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan) and Mary Kurisch (La Crosse, Wis./West Salem) had 11 and 10 kills, respectively, and both hit over .300. Gonzalez handed out 50 assists and had two aces to go with a season-high 16 digs.
Defensively, senior libero Amber Walker (Juneau, Alaska/Juneau Douglas/Western Oregon) led the match with 20 digs. Senior Sue Hayes (Evergreen Park, Ill./Mother McAuley) also had double figure digs with 12. For the second straight match, sophomore Emily Paschke (Winfield, Ill./West Chicago Community) paced the team in blocks with a career-high six.
NIU wraps up cross-divisional play on the road by traveling to Ohio for a 6 p.m. match Friday, Oct. 19, and going to Kent State for a 6 p.m. match Saturday, Oct. 20.
For more information on NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.