The Northern Illinois University volleyball team came just short in their upset bid Friday afternoon, dropping a 3-2 decision to No. 15 Arizona State.
The Huskies claimed a 2-0 lead heading into the intermission, hitting a combined .358 in the first two sets. However, the Sun Devils rallied with wins in the final three sets to steal the upset away from NIU.
“We had a lot of good pressure and a lot of good energy,” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. “We were playing our way and it put pressure on a ranked team. What we need to learn is that it’s good to have pressure, but it’s also good to have sustained pressure. We just weren’t able to finish it.
“It was a hell of a match. It was a surreal, big battle. We fought hard against another Pac-12 team.”
NIU got the early edge on the nationally-ranked Sun Devils, as kills from Mackenzie Roddy (San Bernardino, Calif./Cajon), T’ara Austin (Joliet, Ill./Joliet Central) and Emily Paschke (Winfield, Ill./West Chicago Community) – along with an ace from Jenna Radtke (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Stevenson) – gave the Huskies a 9-6 lead. The Huskie offense kept the pressure on, extending their lead to five and a 20-15 lead. Yet, ASU rallied with a 5-0 run to tie the set, but some Sun Devil errors coupled with a Roddy kill sent the Huskies to a 25-23 first set victory.
ASU grabbed the early lead in the second set, running out to a 4-1 lead. NIU countered with a 4-1 run of their own, tying the match at 5-5 courtesy of a Roddy ace and a Mary Grace Kelly (Strongsville, Ohio/Walsh Jesuit) kill. The Sun Devils retook the lead and held onto a slim edge until the Huskies got on a 7-2 run to move ahead, 19-16, a rally that was kick-started by a block from Radtke and Lauren Zielinski (Oak Forest, Ill./Marist). ASU got within one point on three occasions, but kills from Roddy and Shelby Seurer (Delano, Minn./Delano) ended the Sun Devil threat as the Huskies took the second set, 25-21.
NIU didn’t lose any of their momentum at halftime, getting out to a 4-0 lead thanks to a Kelly kill, a Seurer/Roddy block and an Alexis Gonzalez (Fresno, Calif./Bullard) ace. Though ASU closed the gap with four-straight points of their own, the Huskies went on an 8-0 run that included back-to-back aces from Roddy to move ahead 12-4. NIU seemed to be in complete control and led 20-13 late in the set. Nonetheless, the Sun Devils stormed back, scoring eight of the final nine points to turn a 22-17 Huskie lead into a 25-23 ASU third set win.
As both sides traded points in the fourth set, the Sun Devils got the first break with a 6-0 rally, turning a 5-4 lead into an 11-4 advantage. ASU continued to control play, not allowing the Huskies any closer than three points. NIU, though, made a late push at the Sun Devils’ lead with a 5-1 run to get within 22-20, but ASU held on for a 25-22 fourth set win.
The Sun Devils again took a quick lead in the decisive fifth set, taking advantage of some NIU errors to take a 6-3 lead. Yet, the Huskies didn’t have an answer to this early ASU run, as the Sun Devils pushed their lead all the way to six at 13-7. Radtke made things interesting with a block solo and kill on consecutive points, but the Sun Devils closed out the match with a 15-10 set win.
“I think you learn,” Gooden said about bouncing back. “I think you understand how we put ourselves in this spot to have success and continue to do that with our young group. Again, it’s just learning how to finish it and take it to that next level.”
Three Huskies posted double-digit kills on the day, as Roddy (18 kills), Zielinski (12) and Kelly (10) paced the NIU offense. Anna Brereton (Sun Prairie, Wis./Sun Prairie) recorded 24 digs and Zielinski notched four blocks.
The Huskies close out the weekend at 1 p.m. today when they face ACC foe Louisville. For more information on NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.