DeKalb | The journey for a MAC championship officially begins for volleyball today.
NIU (8-6) will face Western Michigan (7-6) at 7 p.m. on the road. WMU started out the season in great shape, winning five of six matches, including a season-opening five-set victory over Northwestern.
The past couple weeks, the Broncos have lost five of seven matches.
“They are traditionally very solid with their ball control,” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. “They are going to be an offensive force and we’re going to be in for a long, long battle.”
WMU is led by middle blocker Stephenee Yancy, who was last season’s MAC Freshman of the Year.
Yancy has stepped her game up significantly. She ranks 28th in the nation in kills per set with 4.18 and she leads the Broncos in blocks.
NIU is coming off a stellar performance in the Huskie Invitational. The Huskies won the tournament while winning nine of 10 sets.
Mackenzie Roddy and Sarah Angelos both played well throughout the weekend.
Angelos posted a career-high 18 kills against IPFW, which beat WMU in straight sets last week.
Roddy’s offense came to life thanks to great setting from Alexis Gonzalez, and she led the team in kills in two of the three matches.
Roddy leads the team with 3.44 kills per set this season.
Gooden has insisted the two main areas NIU needs to improve are its serving and consistency. Last weekend proved consistent play is something the Huskies are capable of, but the service game underwhelms.
NIU hit more serving errors than any of its opponents despite winning out last weekend, and is serving .887 while opponents have served .923.
“I think we’re continuing to build on our consistency at the service line,” Gooden said. “As a group we’ve talked about it and improved on it. We’ve talked about serving aces to errors and continue to build on it.”
NIU follows up tonight’s match with a MAC Championship rematch against Bowling Green (3-8). Bowling Green has struggled early on this year, but has also faced a lot of tough competition, including multiple Big Ten schools. The defending MAC champions have seven returning seniors, making it one of the deeper squads in the conference.
“We always try not to dwell on the past, but obviously we want to go after Bowling Green,” Roddy said. “We want to get after them at their house and give them revenge, so we’re excited.”
The Huskies have a challenging opening weekend to the conference season, but they hope to pick up their first road victory of the year.
Like in years past, NIU will need young players to come together and make a crucial impact for the team to jump out to a strong MAC start.
“We’re kind of looking at it with a clean slate...,” said freshman Jenna Radtke. “We’ve been working really hard in practice, so hopefully when we get out on the court it’s like a whole new atmosphere.”