The Northern Illinois volleyball team opened its conference slate on a positive note Thursday night in Kalamazoo, Mich., with a big 3-2 win against Western Michigan in the Mid-American Conference opener for both teams.
The victory puts NIU’s record at 9-6 overall and 1-0 in the MAC, while WMU moves to 7-7 and 0-1 in the conference. The Huskies totaled a season-high 74 kills against the Broncos, including two late in the fifth set to secure the win.
“We know that every match in the MAC is going to be tough and, starting off against the defending MAC West champs at their place, we knew it was going to be a challenge,” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. “It was great for our group just to persevere. From set one all the way through, we were able to just keep pushing and battling and playing together. That was the best part was how we played together.”
“It’s great to start off the conference season with a win.”
The Huskies trailed from the outset, as the Broncos staked out an early 4-1 lead. NIU responded with a 9-2 run behind kills from MacKenzie Roddy, Jenna Radtke, Sarah Angelos and Mary Grace Kelly to move ahead 10-6. WMU got to within one at 11-10, but the Huskies kept the hosts at bay and carried their advantage to a 20-17 lead.
Yet a pair of Huskie errors and a Bronco kill tied the set at 20-20. What ensued was a back-and-forth between the two sides that resulted in eight set points and an eventual 30-30 tie. At that point, NIU put together the two straight points they needed, as kills from Angelos and Roddy gave the Huskies a 32-30 opening set win.
NIU again fell into an early hole with a 5-1 deficit in the second set. This time, WMU’s quick lead paid off for them with the Huskies only able to battle back to 7-5. A 7-4 Bronco run pushed the home team’s advantage to 14-9. That second run helped boost WMU to coast to an easy 25-18 second set win.
Following the halftime break, the two sides traded jabs until the Huskies conceded a 5-0 run to the Broncos, giving WMU a 9-3 edge. That rally set the tone for the rest of the set, as the Huskies failed to get any closer than four points. Conversely, the Broncos were able to claim a second consecutive 25-18 set win.
Facing a two-sets-to-one deficit, the Huskies kept the Broncos from gaining an early advantage. Although WMU held two-point leads on three different occasions and eventually a 15-12 lead midway through the fourth, NIU turned the tide with a 7-2 run that was punctuated with back-to-back blocks from Radtke – the former with an assist from Kelly – to force a Bronco timeout. WMU fought back to within 21-20, the Huskies staved off the Bronco comeback to earn a 25-22 fourth set win and force a fifth and final set.
NIU fell into an early 4-2 hole in the deciding set. However, a Radtke kill and a Lauren Zielinski solo block quickly brought things back to a deadlock. After a Bronco kill made it 9-9, the Huskies cobbled together a well-timed 4-1 run to gain control of the set, 13-10. WMU took advantage of two NIU errors to get back within one, but the Huskies clinched the match with kills from Roddy and Kelly for a 15-13 fifth set win and a 3-2 match victory.
The Huskies had four players with double-digit kills, led by Roddy with a season-high 24 spikes. Additionally, Kelly set a career high with 18 kills on the night, while Radtke and Angelos each added 12 in the win. On defense, Radtke collected six blocks and Justine Schepler got 20 digs.
NIU returns to action Saturday when they take on the Bowling Green Falcons in a rematch of last year’s MAC Tournament championship match. The contest starts at 6 p.m. inside the Stroh Center and can be seen live on Time Warner Cable SportsChannel and ESPN3.
For more information on NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.