The Northern Illinois University volleyball team held off a resilient Miami (Ohio) team Saturday night in Oxford, Ohio, to emerge with a 3-2 victory.
The Huskies (11-7, 4-0 MAC) caught fire offensively with 73 kills and a .271 attack percentage against the RedHawks (9-7, 2-2 MAC). The victory also gave NIU a 4-0 start in Mid-American Conference play for the first time since 1997.
“Miami’s a good team,” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. “They were playing good team volleyball tonight. They’re physical and they came out strong early with plenty of runs to secure the first set. We were fortunate to turn the tide the second set by having some success early. The third was a battle and we were able to pull that out. The fourth set, again, we didn’t have what we needed to close it out. In the fifth set, we turned a couple big points. They stopped us twice, but we were able to get the match point.”
The host RedHawks grabbed a quick 3-1 lead on the Huskies to open the match. Though kills from Emily Paschke (Winfield, Ill./West Chicago Community) and Mackenzie Roddy (San Bernardino, Calif./Cajon) got NIU back to a 5-5 tie, MU retook the lead at 8-5 by taking advantage of some Huskie errors. Three Roddy kills helped NIU get back to a 10-10 tie and the two sides traded points until 14-14. That’s when the RedHawks embarked on a 7-1 run to seize control of the set at 21-15. NIU tried to battle back late with two spikes from Roddy and a block from Lauren Zielinski (Oak Forest, Ill./Marist) and Paschke, but MU escaped to take a 25-20 victory in the opening stanza.
The Huskies seized control at the outset of the second set, as a Paschke/Zielinski block and two Roddy spikes highlighted a 7-2 NIU run. Back-to-back kills from Jenna Radtke (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Stevenson) helped extend the Huskie advantage to 11-4, while the NIU offense kept firing away to grow its lead to nine points at 21-12. Despite a late MU push, kills from Roddy, Paschke and Zielinski allowed NIU to put away the RedHawks and go into halftime with a 25-17 second set win. As a team, the Huskies outhit MU, .457-.188, and doubled the RedHawks’ kills, 18-9.
After both teams exchanged points out of the intermission, MU used a 5-2 run to take an 8-5 lead on the Huskies. That three-point margin didn’t last long, though, as a Zielinski kill sparked a 6-0 NIU run that swung the lead to the Huskies’ favor at 11-8. The RedHawks rallied to tie the set at 13-13 that eventually became an 18-18 deadlock.
Kills from Radtke and Roddy and a Roddy/Paschke combo block put the Huskies ahead, 21-18, only for MU to get a 3-0 run of its own to return the set to a stalemate that pushed until 24-24. However, T’ara Austin’s (Joliet, Ill./Joliet Central) kill put NIU ahead, 25-24, while a block by Radtke and Alexis Gonzalez (Fresno, Calif./Bullard) clinched a tight 26-24 win for the Huskies in the third.
NIU opened the fourth set in similar fashion and raced out to a 7-3 lead. Yet, MU’s 5-0 run moments later turned the set in the RedHawks’ favor, as they moved out to a 10-8 advantage. The hosts kept the Huskies at bay, answering each NIU point with a point of their own and denying the Huskies a tie on six occasions on their way to a slim 17-16 lead. With NIU again looking to knot up the set, MU took control with a 5-0 run for a 22-16 lead. Though the Huskies made a 4-1 run late, the RedHawks forced a deciding fifth set with a 25-18 win in the fourth.
The RedHawks captured the early lead in the winner-take-all fifth set with two-point leads at 3-1, 4-2 and 5-3. Consecutive kills from Austin and Zielinski closed the gap for a 5-5 tie. The Huskies took their first lead of the fifth at 8-7 with an Austin kill and used that spark to acquire 12-8 lead, forcing MU to burn both of its timeouts in the process. A Roddy/Radtke block got the Huskies to match point at 14-11, but the RedHawks made one final charge with back-to-back kills and get within 14-13. With the match on the line, Roddy got the deciding point with a kill to give NIU a 15-13 win in the final frame.
“They helped us with the level of stability,” Gooden said of NIU’s upperclassmen. “It’s our first road conference match and we’re still young. We’re a young team and it was a new experience for us. I thought that, though we started off a little slow, we finished very well.”
Roddy posted a match-high 25 kills and 15 digs in the win, while Radtke set a new career-high with 17 spikes. Gonzalez had a season-high 58 assists and Anna Brereton (Sun Prairie, Wis./Sun Prairie) posted 23 digs.
The Huskies head to the Great Lakes State next weekend to face Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan. NIU takes on EMU Friday at 6 p.m. CT, then heads north to battle CMU Saturday in a 6 p.m. CT first serve.
For more information on NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.