DeKalb | After starting its season with seven home matches, volleyball will head to New Mexico this weekend for its first away matches of the year.
NIU (4-3) played well against some of the top competition in the country during its seven-match homestand to open the season. It will face unfamiliar foes during New Mexico State’s invitational.
The Huskies will start the weekend early, with two matches on Friday. The first match of the doubleheader comes against Arkansas-Little Rock (2-4).
UALR is led by Edina Begic, the 2012 Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year. The junior outside hitter is averaging more than five kills per set early on this season and is second on the team in digs.
Begic led the nation in kills per set last year while leading her conference in aces.
“We know that they have a top-10 player in the country in terms of kills per set,” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. “They have two very solid pins and are a very experienced team.”
After an early afternoon match with UALR, NIU will have a quick turnaround and will go up against Southern Utah, another unfamiliar opponent.
Southern Utah (1-5), in just its sixth year as a program, finished last season near the bottom of the Big Sky Conference, but its 12 wins were the most in the program’s short history.
SUU is coming off its first win of the season, which was a come-from-behind, five-set victory over Nebraska-Omaha.
In its five losing matches, SUU has dropped 15 of 17 sets. Overall, opponents have outhit SUU
“We don’t know a lot about them,” Gooden said. “We do know their kids are trained and taught really well. They like to play up-tempo and they really focus hard on their skills.”
Saturday brings a little more familiarity for the Huskies.
NIU will face New Mexico State (1-5), a team that beat the Huskies in DeKalb last year.
Last season’s matchup was the first time the teams saw each other, and the Aggies got the best of NIU by taking control at the net. New Mexico State outblocked NIU 19-3 en route to a sweep at last year’s NIU Invitational.
Despite coming into their tournament with a five-game losing streak, the Aggies have played promising volleyball early on. They have had the same level of competition as NIU this season, playing teams like UCLA and California.
New Mexico State is not a team to sleep on, as Gooden found out last year. The Aggies finished with a 22-11 record and won the WAC a season ago.
“We know they’re going to be amped up,” Gooden said. “We know it’s their first home weekend and we know they’ll be excited to play at home.”