Trailing two sets to one, the Northern Illinois University volleyball team rallied with thrilling fourth and fifth set wins Saturday in Morehead, Kentucky, to knock off the Louisville Cardinals, 3-2.
The Huskies (6-4) overcame a slow start in the first set against the Cardinals (5-4) with 62 kills and a .292 hitting percentage in the final four sets, all of which were decided by two points. The victory was also NIU’s first over an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent since 2006.
“I think we just played and, as easy as it sounds, sometimes we make it more difficult than it is,” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. “In the first set, Louisville – who’s a great team and program – punched us and we didn’t understand the speed and pace that we had to play. As the match wore on, we were able to show our style a lot more and we were able to win some of those critical points. In the fifth set, we did a really nice job of controlling our side of the court and made a couple great key plays to get the victory.”
UL stormed out in the first set, recording seven kills en route to a quick 11-3 lead on the Huskies. NIU started to rally with a 6-1 run behind kills from Mackenzie Roddy (San Bernardino, Calif./Cajon) and Mary Grace Kelly (Strongsville, Ohio/Walsh Jesuit) to get within 12-9. Yet, the Cardinals closed the door on the Huskie comeback with a 6-0 run later in the set to make it a 22-11 lead en route to a 25-14 win in the opening stanza. NIU was unable to find its offensive rhythm in the set, as the Cardinals outhit the Huskies, .370-.111.
NIU kept the Cardinals from running away in the second set, matching UL point for point en route to an 18-18 deadlock.
The Cardinals broke away with a 4-1 run for a 22-19 lead. Yet, the Huskies again had an answer, as Kelly scored on consecutive kills to get NIU within one, followed by a Cardinal error to tie the score at 22-22. UL once again took back the lead at 23-22 with a kill, but a Shelby Seurer (Delano, Minn./Delano) and Lauren Zielinski (Oak Forest, Ill./Marist) teamed up for a block to tie it at 23-23. Jenna Radtke (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Stevenson) gave NIU the lead with a kill, while a Cardinal error clinched a 25-23 set victory for the Huskies.
Much like the first set, UL was firing early and built up a fast 7-0 lead on the Huskies. That lead went all the way to 11-4 until Seurer and Roddy kills coupled with a Kelly ace helped put NIU to within 11-8. Yet, the Huskies could not get any closer, as the Cardinals promptly countered with a 6-2 run to regain at six-point advantage at 17-10. UL held that comfortable margin until 23-17, when two Alexis Gonzalez (Fresno, Calif./Bullard) aces and kills from Roddy and Brianna Horwath (Stillwater, Minn./Stillwater Area) keyed a 6-0 run that tied the set at 23-23. The Cardinals, though, denied NIU with another come-from-behind set win, scoring three kills to claim a 26-24 win.
The Huskies set the tone to start the fourth set, using kills from Emily Paschke (Winfield, Ill./West Chicago Community), Seurer, Horwath, Kelly and Roddy – along with an Anna Brereton (Sun Prairie, Wis./Sun Prairie) ace – to stake out an 8-3 lead. UL battled back and used a 5-0 run to take a 15-14 lead midway through the set. NIU moved back ahead at 19-17 with a Paschke/Horwath combo block and spikes from Roddy and Paschke. UL came back to tie it late, but a Gonzalez kill and a setting error from UL helped NIU post a 26-24 win.
Kills from Roddy and Horwath put NIU out front early in the fifth at 3-1. After UL closed the gap at 4-4, the Huskies responded with three-straight points from a Seurer kill, a Paige Dacanay (Crystal Lake, Ill./Prairie Ridge) ace and a bad Cardinal set to reclaim a 7-4 lead. A relentless Huskie offense pushed the lead to 13-9, but UL rallied with four-straight to knot the set at 13-13. Unwilling to drop a five-set heartbreaker for the second-straight day, Roddy gave NIU match point with a kill and Brereton clinched the win with an ace.
Roddy led the NIU offense with a match-high 25 kills, while Kelly and Paschke chipped in 13 and 11, respectively, and Gonzalez posted 57 assists. Paschke also led the Huskies with three blocks to go along with Brereton’s 15 digs on defense.
“I’m going to say our seniors did a fantastic job,” Gooden said. “Not only Roddy, but Paschke came through and played a phenomenal style of volleyball today and really helped our team score some big points. It was nice to see those two, along with the other members of our team, just go out there and play to win.”
NIU returns home Tuesday when they host in-state rival UIC. First serve between the Huskies and Flames is slated for 7 p.m. in Victor E. Court.
“We just celebrate this with a little bit of ice cream today, get back home safely and then start working for UIC on Tuesday,” Gooden said. “They’re coming off of a strong win against Indiana, so we know that it’s going to be a big battle. It’s a big local battle. It’s another opportunity for us to get a little better. The great news of it is that it is going to be on our home court.”
For more information on NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.