The Northern Illinois volleyball team got its season off to a good start Friday night in Victor E. Court, as they defeated the Green Bay Phoenix, 3-2, at the NIU Invitational.
With a win against the former NIU assistant coach Michaela Franklin-led Phoenix, the Huskies extended their home-opener win streak to six matches and 12 of their last 13.
“Every year’s going to be different and, with this group, I think we have some real good talent on our team,” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. “I think we are a team that’s starting to get some experience. We knew Michaela’s group was going to play hard and once they made a couple adjustments, they really made us play. In the end, we did a real nice job. We got contributions from a lot of people, which I thought, going into tonight’s match, that a lot of people could help our team out.”
Beginning with Kelly’s ace to begin the match, the Huskies built a 10-6 lead on the Phoenix before Green Bay scored four of the next six points to get within two at 12-10. Yet, a MacKenzie Roddy kill and Lauren Zielinski block stemmed the change in momentum temporarily. After Green Bay got back within two points at 16-14, the Huskies went on a 9-4 run to claim a 25-18 set victory.
NIU took advantage of the early lead by taking a quick 7-3 edge on the Phoenix in the second stanza, thanks in no small part to Roddy and Zielinski’s two kills each.
The home team would keep Green Bay on edge for most of the second set before taking control. Holding on to a 10-6 advantage, consecutive kills by Emily Paschke and Kelly, along with an attack error by Green Bay, extended the Huskie lead to 12-6. The superior frontline work of Sarah Angelos, Radtke, Roddy, and Kelly prevented the Phoenix from gaining any kind of momentum, as the Huskie defense held Green Bay to a .050 hitting percentage in the first half compared the NIU’s .442 mark.
Ironically, the Phoenix arose from their first-half struggles and got back into the match with a third set win. With the score tied a 3-3, Green Bay went on a 5-1 run courtesy of a pair of kills and two Huskie errors. Despite a valiant effort from NIU, the Huskies failed to get within striking distance. While Green Bay vastly improved on the offensive end in the third set behind a .343 hitting percentage, Northern hit a badly-timed slump with seven attack errors and three service errors in the third set alone.
Things failed to improve for the Huskies early in the fourth set, either, as Green Bay forged a quick 5-1 lead following consecutive Phoenix blocks and a Huskie hitting error. The lead grew to 10-5 for the visitors before the Huskies began to chip away at the lead.
Looking for a boost, Gooden inserted senior Tori Halbur to serve in Angelos’ spot in the rotation. The move paid off as Halbur scored aces on her first two serves to get NIU within one. However, a Green Bay kill ended the run, but the Huskies stayed neck and neck with the Phoenix until the match was tied at 23-all.
After a Phoenix timeout, Roddy got NIU in position to win the match with a well-timed kill. However, the Huskies could not take advantage of the opportunity. The team’s traded points until an NIU service error and Phoenix block gave Green Bay the fourth set.
Much like the previous two sets, Green Bay came out on fire and got a quick 4-0 lead before NIU was forced to use a timeout. The break worked in the Huskies’ favor, as they outscored the Phoenix 9-4 to claim an 9-8 lead. After another service error, Northern took control with three straight kills from Radtke and Roddy. Though the Phoenix snuck back to within one at 12-11, the Huskies sent the home fans home happy by ending the match on a 4-0 run.
Individually, Roddy led the Huskies with 21 kills, followed by Angelos with 13 and Kelly with a dozen. Meanwhile, five Huskies notched double-digit digs led by Roddy’s 21. The big key to NIU’s victory came from outblocking the Phoenix, 14-4, including Zielinski’s four solo stuffs.
The Huskies return to the court today with a pair of matches. At 2 p.m., NIU faces the Liberty Flames, then closes the NIU Invitational with a matchup against 23rd-ranked Ohio State.
For more information on NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.