Feeding off the energy of a raucous Victor E. Court crowd, the Northern Illinois volleyball team gave No. 3 USC all it could handle Saturday afternoon, but the Huskies fell, 3-1.
The loss drops the Huskies to 3-3 on the year, while the Trojans move to 6-0. Despite being even in many statistical categories, USC managed to get points when they needed them late in the match to evade the NIU upset bid.
“I thought we battled pretty hard today,” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden.
“USC is a great team and a great program. We had a great atmosphere today at Victor E. Court, great energy. We fell short the first two sets and had chances to be successful. We learned from it in the third set and came out strong, but learned in the fourth set that, in order to play with the best, we have to play at that level for a long period of time.”
From the start, the Huskies showed USC that they would not be an easy win by getting out to a 3-1 lead.
After MacKenzie Roddy started the match with a kill, Roddy teamed up with Jenna Radtke for a block of defending Pac-12 Freshman of the Week Ebony Nwanebu. Lauren Zielinski followed that up with a kill of her own to energize the NIU faithful.
The Trojans, though, got back into the match and made it a nip-and-tuck affair, as neither team got a lead of more than two points until NIU lead 16-15. That’s when USC went on a 4-0 run behind kills from Samantha Bricio and Emily Young, along with a pair of Huskie errors. Following a timeout, NIU battled back and tied the set a 20-all. Yet, the Huskies could not use the momentum to their advantage, as USC clinched the set one with a 5-2 run.
The tight-knit battle continued in the second set, as NIU held close to USC throughout the early goings. With the Trojans leading 14-13, though, USC went on a 5-0 run to break open the match. The Huskies would slowly battle back to a 22-22 tie, forcing the visitors to call a timeout. Out of the break, USC broke the deadlock with two kills, and then ended NIU’s hopes of a halftime tie with a block from Hannah Schraer.
Trailing two sets to none, NIU fought on against their nationally ranked foes in the third set with an emphatic win. Trailing 3-2 early, the Huskies rattled off a 9-2 run to hold a comfortable 11-5 lead.
The run started when Tori Halbur scored a kill to knot the set, then NIU took advantage of some Trojan errors, along with scoring points of their own from a Sarah Angelos kill and a Radtke-Halbur combo block to hold a six-point edge. The NIU lead grew to 15-7 after two more USC errors, but the Trojans battled back to get within two at 19-17. Mary Grace Kelly would close the door on that rally, as the Huskies cruised to a 25-19 set win, becoming the first team to hold the Trojans to under 20 points in a set in the process.
The Huskies looked poised to take USC to a fifth set by getting out to a 7-5 lead early in the fourth. However, the Trojans exploded for a 10-3 run to take a 15-10 lead on the Huskies. After watching the deficit grow to seven, the Huskies fought valiantly to get back within four. However, the Trojans ended the set with another long run – this one to the tune of six of seven points – to close the set and escape DeKalb with a 3-1 win.
Angelos and Roddy led the NIU offense with 13 and 12 kills on the night, while Roddy also added two service aces to the cause. Defensively, the Huskies got at least one dig from nine different individuals, including a team-high 13 from Justine Schepler. Alexis Gonzalez tallied 34 assists in the match.
For more information on NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.