The Northern Illinois volleyball team endured a marathon match Friday night, but emerged with a 3-2 win over the Southern Utah Thunderbirds.
The win pushes the Huskies record to 5-4, while the Thunderbirds fall to 1-7. In the defensive battle, the Huskies accumulated a season-high 93 digs against SUU and held the Thunderbirds to a .093 hitting percentage.
“Though it sounds cliché, our young group is continuing to learn how to win,” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. “For our first road trip, its an experience as a group. It was a good thing for our team not to quit against a very scrappy team from Southern Utah.”
Things did not start smoothly at all for the Huskies in the first set. Following a controversial call that charged NIU with an attack error instead of a kill, Southern Utah charged out to an 8-0 lead. The Huskies battled back and got the deficit to within 11-8, only to have the Thunderbirds boost the lead back up to 18-11 and eventually 23-15. That is when NIU ran off a 6-0 run to narrow the margin to two. Yet, a SUU kill and a Huskie error resulted in the Thunderbirds claiming a 25-21 opening set triumph.
NIU prevented SUU from getting out to a fast start as they had the previous set with both teams exchanging points all the way to a 9-9 tie. With the set deadlocked, the Huskies busted out of their funk with a 5-0 run to claim a 14-9 lead. After a T’ara Austin kill and a Thunderbird ball-handling error forced SUU to burn a timeout, the Huskies got three more points from an Austin kill, a Lauren Zielinski kill and a Jenna Radtke-Zielinski combo block. That run powered NIU to a 25-17 win in the second set.
The Huskies used their momentum from the second set and got out to a quick 5-1 lead on the Thunderbirds. Yet, SUU retaliated with a 9-1 run of their own to claim a 10-6 advantage over the Huskies.
The Thunderbird lead slowly grew to 17-11 before NIU embarked on yet another rally in the match, going on an 8-1 run to move ahead, 19-18. As both teams fought to a 22-22 tie, NIU scored on a SUU attack error and a Zielinski kill to get a 24-22 advantage and set point. However, the Thunderbirds had other plans and scored four consecutive points to steal a 26-24 set three win.
After a demoralizing loss the set prior, the Huskies fell behind the Thunderbirds early, 3-2.
Yet, the Huskies responded with an 12-4 run of their own to move ahead, 13-8. That advantage would grow to 21-10 as the Huskie offense continued to impose their will on the Thunderbirds. Though SUU made a mini-run late, NIU’s lead was far too much to overcome, allowing the Huskies to coast to a 25-18 fourth set win.
The fifth set began as a war of attrition with both teams splitting the first 10 points. NIU broke the stalemate with a 3-0 run behind a combo block from Sarah Angelos and Emily Paschke, coupled with two SUU errors.
After the teams switched sides, the Thunderbirds battled back to tie the match again, this time at 10. SUU briefly took an 11-10 lead on a service ace, but MacKenzie Roddy answered with a kill before NIU reclaimed the lead with an Alexis Gonzalez kill. Another kill by Gonzalez gave the Huskies a 13-11 lead, only to have the Thunderbirds tie it again at 13. As both teams traded scores and match points, the Huskies finally clinched the set with kills from Angelos and Mary Grace Kelly to grab an 18-16 final set win and the match.
Angelos paced the Huskie offense with 14 kills, while Radtke and Roddy eached chipped in 11 scores. On defense, Angelos and Radtke had five and six blocks, respectively, while Justine Schepler set a career-high with 25 digs in the win.
For more information on NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.