The Northern Illinois University volleyball team ended its three-match road trip in impressive fashion Saturday, ousting Central Michigan, 3-1.
The Huskies (13-7, 6-0 MAC) finished the night with a .306 attack percentage and 57 kills to go along with 11 aces against the Chippewas (7-11, 2-4 MAC). The victory also gave NIU its best start to a MAC season since 1984 and its best start in any conference since 1996.
“I think a lot of it has to do with our serving,” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. “I think our serving helped fuel the rest of our volleyball tonight. We worked really hard to stay aggressive on the serving line, which I think helped a lot of other things with our volleyball team today.”
The NIU attack found its rhythm early in the first set.
With CMU leading by a 3-2 margin, Mackenzie Roddy’s (San Bernardino, Calif./Cajon) kill ignited a 10-1 run that included two aces each from Roddy and Alexis Gonzalez (Fresno, Calif./Bullard), three additional spikes from Roddy and a kill from Lauren Zielinski (Oak Forest, Ill./Marist) – putting the Huskies up, 12-4. From there, the Chippewas were no match, as runs of 3-0 and 4-0 late in the set helped clinch a 25-16 opening stanza victory for the Huskies. In the set, hit .320 as a team and compiled 12 kills, three blocks and four aces.
CMU matched NIU point-for-point to open the second. The Huskies, though, got separation with a kill from Jenna Radtke (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Stevenson), followed by a Paige Dacanay (Crystal Lake, Ill./Prairie Ridge) ace for an 8-6 edge. Moments later, a Chippewa service error started a 4-0 run for the Huskies, as a Gonzalez spike and two CMU miscues put NIU up, 12-7. The Chippewas rallied and got back to within two at 13-11, but two Roddy kills, a Roddy ace and a Zielinski spike gave the Huskies a comfortable 17-12 lead. Though CMU again got back to within two, kills from Roddy and T’ara Austin (Joliet, Ill./Joliet Central) halted the comeback and gave NIU a 25-19 win in the second.
The Huskies appeared to be on their way to a sweep, as an Anna Brereton (Sun Prairie, Wis./Sun Prairie) ace and five kills put NIU in an 8-5 advantage. The hosts, though, kept NIU from extending that lead and rebutted with a 4-0 run to take a 9-8 lead.
What ensued was a back-and-forth affair that resulted in a 19-19 tie late in the set. Yet, back-to-back kills from CMU put the Chippewas ahead, 21-19, and forced the Huskies to take a timeout. Consecutive spikes from Mary Grace Kelly (Strongsville, Ohio/Walsh Jesuit) got NIU back to a 22-22 deadlock, but a 3-1 run gave CMU a 25-23 set victory.
Unwilling to go through a repeat of what happened the previous night at Eastern Michigan, NIU put the finishing touches on CMU in the fourth. Trailing 7-6, the Huskies erupted with a 7-0 run that included an Austin ace and two kills from Radtke, putting NIU in command at 13-7. Looking for a spark, the Chippewas got two-straight points to move within 13-9, only to have the Huskies get those two back with a Roddy spike and a Radtke ace. CMU did not pose a threat the remainder of the set, as the NIU offense – keyed by a .464 hitting average and 15 kills in the set – carried the Huskies to a 25-17 win.
“I think every time you have a chance to get a little separation in such a difficult division, it’s a good feeling,” Gooden said. “It’s nice for us to get positive results in this first part. Now we’re excited about continuing on into the cross-divisional play against the always-physical East Division, but we’re excited to be back at home doing it.”
Roddy guided the Huskies offensively with 24 kills and three aces, while Gonzalez also had three aces to go along with her 52 assists in the win. On defense, Zielinski led the way with four blocks, while Radtke and Emily Paschke (Winfield, Ill./West Chicago Community) each posted three stuffs.
The Huskies return home next weekend for a pair of MAC East matchups. NIU opens the weekend at 7 p.m. Friday against Akron, then battles Buffalo Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Breast Cancer Awareness and Alumni nights.
For more information on NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.