The Northern Illinois University volleyball team found itself in an early hole Saturday, but rallied to claim a 3-1 victory over Bowling Green.
The Huskies (20-8, 13-1 MAC) bounced back from a heartbreaking first set to top the scrappy Falcons (7-19, 4-10 MAC) behind 67 kills and 57 assists. With the win, NIU clinches a top-two seed in the upcoming Mid-American Conference Tournament and ensuring a double-bye into the semifinals in the process.
“Bowling Green is always a great battle,” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. “We’ve had three or four big battles against these guys over the last two or three years and we knew it was going to be another big battle. Both teams played their hearts out, but we settled down and played our style toward the end.
“It’s nice for us to defend home with two more matches to go. It’s great to have a good start on this final homestand.”
NIU got the first break in the opening stanza with a 5-0 run, as Mackenzie Roddy (San Bernardino, Calif./Cajon) and Shelby Seurer (Delano, Minn./Delano) kills coupled with consecutive aces from Alexis Gonzalez (Fresno, Calif./Bullard) put the Huskies at a 7-3 edge. BGSU fought back to within one, but spikes from Jenna Radtke (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Stevenson) and Seurer keyed a 3-0 stretch that put NIU back up by four.
The Huskies kept the Falcons at bay and had set point at 24-22 following a Lauren Zielinski (Oak Forest, Ill./Marist) kill, but BGSU turned the tables with four-straight points to steal a 26-24 win in the first.
Both sides traded points at the onset of the second en route to a 16-16 deadlock. That’s when BGSU surged ahead with a 4-1 run to claim a 20-17 edge in the frame.
NIU, though, fought back with two Mary Grace Kelly (Strongsville, Ohio/Walsh Jesuit) kills and a Zielinski block to forge a 21-21 tie, then move ahead 23-21 with a Radtke spike and a Falcon error. Though the Falcons came back to knot the set at 23-23, Zielinski shattered the deadlock with a thunderous spike and Kelly finished off the set with a kill to take a 25-23 win for NIU.
Following a spirited back-and-forth to open the third, BGSU broke away with a 5-0 stretch that included two kills and an ace. Yet, NIU scored seven of the next nine points – including a two blocks from Zielinski – to tie the frame at 15-15.
The Falcons once again reclaimed the lead and held the advantage until 20-18. That’s when the Huskies again rallied, this time with a Roddy/Seurer block and a Gonzalez ace for a 20-20 stalemate. Moments later, Zielinski’s cross-court spike snapped a 22-22 tie and Kelly again closed out the set with back-to-back kills, handing NIU a 25-22 third set victory.
The Falcons didn’t relent in the fourth, as the visitors raced out to a 7-4 lead. However, the Huskies again countered BGSU and knotted the set at 8-8 with a 4-1 run, capping it with a block from Radtke and Gonzalez.
The two sides exchanged points en route to a 13-13 tie, when Roddy and Kelly pushed NIU ahead with a pair of spikes for a 15-13 Huskie edge. A BGSU miscue and a Gonzalez kill pushed the lead to three at 17-14, but the Falcons clawed back to within one moments later following an NIU error and a BGSU ace. A Roddy kill and a Gonzalez ace got the Huskie lead back to three at 22-19, while Zielinski and Radtke spiked clinched a 25-22 triumph in the fourth.
Roddy powered the Huskie attack with 18 kills, followed by Kelly’s 16 spikes and Zielinski’s 13. Elsewhere, Gonzalez tallied 47 assists, while Anna Brereton (Sun Prairie, Wis./Sun Prairie) registered 18 digs and Seurer and Zielinski each recorded four blocks defensively.
NIU closes the book on the 2014 regular season this weekend when they host Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan. Both matches are slated to start at 7:30 p.m.
For more information on NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.