The Northern Illinois volleyball team closed out the NM State Tournament Saturday afternoon at the Pan American Center with a 3-1 loss to the host New Mexico State Aggies.
The loss sends the Huskies to 5-5, while the Aggies moved to 3-6. Despite hitting .325 in the first set, NIU could not keep the momentum going in the following sets, as the NMSU defense held the Huskies to a .027 the next three sets.
“Our two teams are very similar to where we got some youth and we got some kids that are pretty physical,” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden.
“Credit those guys to where we had a good start in the first set and they made a couple adjustments and continued to play. Our group is continuing to learn. We’ve got flashes of solid play, but when you play teams of this level – teams that are winning championships in their conference on a regular basis – we’ve got to learn to play a little more consistently.”
NIU got off to a good start with Lauren Zielinski and MacKenzie Roddy kills highlighting a set-opening 5-2 run. The Aggies worked their way back into the match with a 4-0 run to move ahead 10-9 until a Sarah Angelos kill and a Tori Halbur ace put the Huskies back up, 11-10. Both sides continued to trade blows until NIU turned a 15-14 deficit into a 20-17 lead with a 6-2 run highlighted by three Mary Grace Kelly kills and another Halbur ace. NMSU, though, came right back with back-to-back kills to inch within one. The Huskies denied the rally and closed out the set with a 5-2 run to claim the opening set, 25-21.
NIU fell into an early 6-3 hole to start the second set with NMSU scoring on three kills, two Huskie errors and a block. Northern closed that early gap quickly with a 3-1 run to tie the set at 7-7. Yet, that deadlock was short-lived as the Aggies used another 3-0 run to claim a 10-7 advantage. NMSU’s lead would lengthen to nine late in the set to send the Huskies to a 25-14 second set loss.
The Huskies regained their form out of the half, using a 4-0 run – with points coming from Roddy, Zielinski, Kelly and Jenna Radtke – to stake a quick 6-3 lead. NIU pushed the lead to 9-5 and kept the Aggies at bay. That’s until NMSU used a 5-2 run to bring the set to a 13-13 stalemate. From there, the Aggies broke open the set with a 7-3 run to take control and coast to a 25-20 victory.
The fourth set was a back-and-forth affair with each side exchanging runs. After both sides battled to a 7-7 tie early, NMSU used two Bradley Nash kills and an NIU error to claim a 10-7 lead. The Huskies responded with a 5-2 run to tie things again, this time at 12, behind a Roddy kill and two Aggie errors. An ace and two NIU errors put NMSU back up 15-12, only to have the Huskies tie the match again at 15-15. Unfortunately for NIU, the Aggies used a 5-0 run to move ahead 20-15. Though the Huskies battled back to 20-18, NMSU closed the set with five straight points to win the set, 25-18, and the match.
Roddy led the Huskies with 12 kills and three service aces on the day, while Kelly and Angelos each added nine scores in the loss. On defense, Justine Schepler and Halbur collected 21 and 11 digs, respectively.
The Huskies return home Tuesday to face the Northern Iowa Panthers. The match begins at 7 p.m. inside Victor E. Court.
For more information on NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.