DeKALB | In a homecoming weekend full of festivities, NIU volleyball corralled Buffalo Saturday night (25-20, 26-24, 25-19) just as the football team did hours earlier in a 45-14 defeat of the Bulls.
The match marked not only the seventh consecutive win for the team, but also the 150th for head coach Ray Gooden, who earlier this season became NIU’s second all-time winningest coach, behind Pete Waite.
“For me, I got a 150 wins now?” Gooden said of the news. “Hot darn. I am very fortunate to do what I do. I’ve been around some very good people, and I’ve had a chance to do some amazing things.”
Saturday’s defeat of the Bulls (14-10, 2-6 MAC) padded the Huskies’ lead in the MAC, after they won the conference’s ultimate showdown the previous night. On Friday night the Huskies (21-2, 7-1) welcomed Akron, the leader in the East, to Victor E. Court in front of 585 fans and alumni.
After taking the first and second sets, 25-23 and 25-17, respectively, the Zips charged back for a third set battle, winning in extra points 26-24.
“We’ve got a tough group that once they make the commitment to fighting and staying in a match, going toe-to-toe with an opponent, we at least put ourselves in a position to earn points,” said Akron head coach Ron Arenz.
The Huskies would go on to finish Akron (13-7, 5-3) in four sets.
Freshman outside hitter Lauren Wicinski remained consistent on the season, combining in both matches for 41 kills, 19 digs and nine blocks.
But it was the overall team improvement in blocking that was noticed. Ranking eighth in conference coming into the matches, the Huskies would get eight solo blocks and 20 assisted blocks by the end of the weekend.
“I thought we did a really good job of touching the ball,” Gooden said. “We’ve worked really hard on it, tried to stress it in practice...If we didn’t touch it to stuff it, we sure touched it to score in transition.”
Sophomore middle blocker Mary Kurisch, who ranked seventh in the MAC in blocks, added a career-tying seven blocks Friday night and another four Saturday. The effort made it Kurisch’s fifth straight match with at least four blocks.
“Mary did a really good job,” Gooden said. “She wanted to work really hard in her blocking...She was able to put to ourselves in spots where she could score some points offensively and even helped us with a couple serves too. She had a really nice weekend.”
At the end of the weekend the Huskies found themselves alone atop the MAC, but know the “king of the hill” mentality of other teams.
“When you are at the top it means that everyone is going to bring their best game for you,” Kurisch said. “Everyone wants to beat you...This conference is crazy; everybody beats everybody. It’s not like we can cruise or anything.”