The Northern Illinois University volleyball team was pushed to the limit Friday, but earned a hard-fought 3-2 victory against Central Michigan.
The Huskies (21-8, 14-1) pulled out the win thanks to a season high 19 blocks against the Chippewas (10-17, 5-10 MAC), which is the most by any team in the Mid-American Conference this season and the most by NIU since at least 2008.
“I’m real proud of our group’s ability to fight through it tonight in another tough battle,” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. “Central always gives us a really big fight and for us to end up victorious says a lot about our group. We’re thankful for our crowd energy tonight.”
The Huskies raced out to a commanding 9-1 lead in the first behind three kills from Mackenzie Roddy (San Bernardino, Calif./Cajon) and two kills each from Shelby Seurer (Delano, Minn./Delano) and Alexis Gonzalez (Fresno, Calif./Bullard). NIU kept the offense firing with a 5-0 stretch midway through the stanza – sparked by an Anna Brereton (Sun Prairie, Wis./Sun Prairie) ace and spikes from Jenna Radtke (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Stevenson) and Mary Grace Kelly (Strongsville, Ohio/Walsh Jesuit) – to build up a 17-4 lead. Though CMU cobbled together a 6-0 run late, NIU coasted to a 25-15 win in the first. As a team, the Huskies accumulated 19 kills and hit .562 in the frame.
The Chippewas didn’t let the Huskies run away in the second, matching NIU point-for-point to a 6-6 tie. Some CMU errors pushed the Huskies to a 10-7 lead, but the Chippewas battled back to a 12-12 deadlock just moments later. Though a Roddy kill and a Seurer block put the Huskies back ahead at 14-12, CMU went on a 6-1 rally, which included five-straight kills, to move ahead 18-15. NIU tried to come back with spikes from Roddy and Seurer, but ultimately fell in the second, 25-22.
After trading points, the Huskies got the first break with a 3-0 run, as Kelly used two kills and a block solo to single-handedly push NIU to an 8-5 lead. Though the Chippewas quickly countered with a 3-0 run of their own, NIU got blocks from Roddy, Seurer and Lauren Zielinski (Oak Forest, Ill./Marist) to ignite a 5-1 run and claim a 16-11 edge.
A 4-0 run moments later pushed the Huskies’ lead to 20-13, then capped the stanza with a Radtke ace to score a 25-18 third set victory. While the offense scored 13 kills, it was the defense that came up big in the third with six blocks, while limiting CMU to just a .051 average.
Yet, CMU answered back in the fourth. With the set tied at 7-7, the Chippewas forced some NIU errors along with a strong serving game as part of a 5-1 run that put the visitors up, 12-8. Two NIU blocks and a Roddy spike, though, got the Huskies back to within 14-12 and a chance to draw even. However, things fell apart for NIU when the Chippewas scored eight of the next 10 points – including two kills, a block and an ace – to take a commanding 22-14 lead, eventually forcing a decisive fifth set with a 25-15 decision.
With the match on the line, the Huskies answered the call early in the fifth by forcing four consecutive CMU miscues to move out to a 5-1 advantage. Back-to-back kills and two-straight aces quickly got the Chippewas back into things at 5-5, but a Roddy spike sparked a 5-0 run that ended with a tremendous block from Seurer and Roddy.
CMU again chipped away at NIU’s lead, using three-straight points to move within 10-8. Yet, Zielinski’s kill and a Roddy ace quashed the Chippewa rally and Radtke and Zielinski teamed up for one final NIU block to clinch a 15-9 triumph in the fifth.
Roddy and Kelly keyed the NIU offense with 14 and 12 kills, respectively. On defense, Seurer had a career-high 10 blocks on the night, while Radtke added seven more in the middle.
NIU finishes the weekend and the regular season Saturday when they host Eastern Michigan on Senior Night. First serve between the Huskies and Eagles is set for 7:30 p.m. on ESPN3.
For more information on NIU volleyball and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.