The Northern Illinois volleyball team went the distance for the third time in five matches Wednesday night at Victor E. Court, but emerged victorious by defeating Western Illinois, 3-2.
The win pushes NIU’s record to 3-2 on the season, while WIU drops to 2-2. The Huskie defense was the story of the game with 77 digs and 13 blocks, while forcing the Leathernecks into 37 attack errors and a .108 hitting percentage.
“Tonight was a battle and we expected it (to be),” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden.
“We’ve seen Western Illinois on occasion and those guys battle us tough. Credit to their coaching staff and players for playing really hard. We knew what we were up against and we knew it was going to be a dog fight the entire time,” Gooden added.
“We’re continuing to learn. We’re continuing to build, but it’s nice for us to get a win at home.”
Things did not start out so smoothly for the Huskies, as WIU snagged a tight 26-24 first set win. The Leathernecks jumped out to a 7-3 lead. NIU returned the favor to tie the set up at 10-10 following three kills and a service ace from freshman Mary Grace Kelly. As the two sides battled back-and-forth and continued to exchange points entering the late stages of the opening stanza, Jenna Radtke converted on an attack and give NIU set point at 24-23. The Leathernecks, though, had alternate plans and scored three consecutive points to clinch the set.
Things continued to go south for the Huskies in the second set when Western Illinois turned a 7-6 NIU lead into a 10-6 edge with a four-point run behind two kills from Samantha Fournier and two Northern errors. After WIU scored two more points to make it a 6-0 run and a 12-7 lead, the Huskies stormed back with seven of the next nine scores to knot the match up at 14 apiece.
The Leathernecks moved back ahead 17-14 and held that edge until late in the set. With the scoreboard reading 23-20 and WIU primed to take a 2-0 lead into the break, the Huskie offense woke up with a 4-0 run – capped by a Kayla Zeno ace – to move ahead, 24-23. The two sides then battled back-and-forth with three set points going unanswered until a Tori Halbur kill and a WIU attack error gave NIU a 28-26 set victory.
The momentum from the second set win propelled the Huskies to claim a 7-2 early in the third, as Sarah Angelos, MacKenzie Roddy, Radtke and Alexis Gonzalez combined for three blocks in the run. That did not stop the Leathernecks from coming back, though, as they countered NIU’s run with a 9-2 run to move out in front 11-9.
The Huskies would respond with a 5-0 run to go back into the lead, 14-11. Though WIU got back to a 14-14 tie, Halbur stuffed the rally with a strong kill to put the Huskies up for good. The Leathernecks were within one point on three occasions, but NIU denied each attempt to tie and broke open the set with a 3-1 run highlighted by kills from Halbur and Emily Paschke before taking the third, 25-20. In addition to the three early set blocks, the Huskies limited the Leathernecks to a -.044 hitting percentage in the set.
NIU’s momentum ended quickly though in the fourth set. After both sides battled to a 16-16 deadlock midway through, WIU got hot and ran off a 9-1 run, including seven straight to force the fifth set. The Leathernecks scored on three kills, two blocks and an ace in the run, along with forcing three other Huskie errors.
The Huskies put things to rest in the fifth set to put away the pesky Leathernecks.
With WIU clinging to a 3-2 lead, NIU went off on an 8-0 run. A big part of the run was Angelos, who scored on three kills and a block assist, while Gonzalez’s block solo punctuated the run. Though the Leathernecks tried to muster one last comeback, NIU was not having any of it. Roddy got NIU to match point with a block assist and two kills before Radtke threw the dagger with a final kill and a 15-9 fifth set win.
Angelos and Roddy led the Huskie offense with 13 and 12 kills, respectively, while Gonzalez added 44 assists.
However, the story of the night was on defense. Four Huskies netted double-digit digs on the night with Justine Schepler (19), Roddy (16), Paige Dacanay (15) and Gonzalez (10) all leading the effort. Additionally, Roddy set a career high with six blocks on the night.
NIU closes out their seven-match homestand Saturday with a day-night doubleheader. At 1 p.m., the Huskies take on the third-ranked USC Trojans, followed by a 7 p.m. nightcap against the Belmont Bruins.
For more information on NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.