Huskies force split with Chips in Senior Day showdown

NIU tops CMU in all three phases


Alyssa Queen

Senior outside hitter Brianna Scuric, sophomore libero Francesca Bertucci, senior outside hitter Katie Jablonski, sophomore middle blocker Charli Atiemo, sophomore right back Sophie Hurt and junior right side hitter Emily Dykes huddle between rallies during NIU’s 3-0 win over Central Michigan University on Saturday at Victor E. Court. (Alyssa Queen | Northern Star)

By Skyler Kisellus, Sports Editor

DeKALB – NIU volleyball successfully defended Victor E. Court Saturday, delivering a three-set sweep to the Central Michigan University Chippewas in the Huskies’ final home stand of 2022.

The Huskies (15-10, 8-7 MAC) split their two-match weekend series with the Chippewas (16-10, 9-6 MAC) to allow NIU’s three senior outside hitters, Katie Jablonski, Brianna “Bina” Scuric and Kaitlyn “Kat” Bell to leave Victor E. Court with a win for the last time. All three were also part of Saturday’s starting lineup.

“You thank the seniors always for their commitment to our program,” head volleyball coach Ray Gooden said. “They’ve gone through so many things, whether it be COVID or the ups and downs of a two, three, four year stretch, so we really are thankful for what they’ve been able to do and contribute to NIU.”

It was just great all around. Couldn’t have asked for more for my senior night.”

— Senior outside hitter Katie Jablonski

The Huskies overpowered the Chippewas in all phases of the game. NIU’s offense outperformed CMU in kills, hitting percentage and assists. NIU’s defensive front also created problems for CMU’s offense by blocking 16 attacks and digging up 48 more. The setting unit put a bow on NIU’s collective performance with seven service aces, giving them 17 for the weekend.

“I just thought things were clicking today,” Gooden said. “I thought people were trying to make it work, and I thought they did a good job making it work.”

Jablonski headed up the offense with 12 kills, followed closely by junior right side hitter Emily Dykes and sophomore outside hitter Nikolette Nedic with 10 kills each.

“Sounds cliche, but we were super locked in,” Jablonski said. “We had a game plan. We stuck to it really well.”

Jablonski gave high praise to multiple aspects of NIU’s overall performance such as the team’s touches, blocking, first line of defense and everything behind it.

She also named sophomore libero Francesca “Franki” Bertucci and sophomore right back Sophie Hurt as players who stood out in the match.

“Franki (Bertucci) did an amazing job as always,” Jablonksi said. “Setters were doing great. Soph (Hurt) really stepped up and set great balls. She hasn’t had a full setting role in a little while so, so proud of her for doing that.”

Sophomore outside hitter Nikolette Nedic had the most success on swings for NIU, recording a career-best hitting percentage of .526.

“It feels amazing,” Nedic said. “I feel like if we pulled it together last night, we could have done the same thing. But today, I think we just executed harder and really paid attention to the little details.”

Nedic said the biggest change between the two matches against Central Michigan was NIU’s composure.

“I think yesterday we brought the panic from Central’s side to our side and reflected our game based on theirs; so, whenever they started panicking, we started panicking,” Nedic said. “I feel like today, we stayed calm and collected on our side and just worried about getting our stuff done and not worrying about them – just executing.”

“It was just great all around,” Jablonski said. “Couldn’t have asked for more for my senior night.”

Honoring Huskies and Chips present

Saturday’s slate of pre-game honors began with Bertucci being awarded a game ball to commemorate her achievement of 1,000 career digs. Bertucci reached the 1,000 mark with her 15th dig in Friday’s match against the Chippewas.

Bell, Scuric and Jablonski were joined by family on the court at approximately 1:45 p.m. Each player received flowers and a framed portrait with their jersey and their portrait photos of themselves from each season at NIU.

CMU’s three graduating seniors were also recognized before the match. Outside hitters Anna Erickson, Mallory Hernandez and middle blocker Maddie Whitfield had their names announced while each were given flowers by NIU players.

NIU overcomes past late-set struggles

The opening stages of all three sets were tightly-contested battles for points. The Huskies broke away from an 8-8 tie in the first set and stayed in front from that point on. They capped off the set with a Jablonski kill to win 25-17.

NIU kept its foot on the gas with a larger winning margin in the second set. The attacking unit accounted for 13 kills and the serving unit chipped in with five service aces during the set. The Huskies left the Chippewas in the dust to win the set 25-14 and went up 2-0 in the match.

Saturday’s third set was a closely battled one. Both sides kept close to one another on the scoreboard and entered the media timeout with NIU at a two-point advantage, 15-13. The contest for points continued all the way to set point with NIU up 24-22. A service error by CMU freshman outside hitter Natalia Rejment secured the Huskies’ first win at home in four weeks.

Not out of it yet

With their first win of November in hand, NIU remains in the running for a spot in the MAC Tournament. The Huskies sit at No. 7 in the league with three matches still to play.

“Good teams play their best volleyball at this time of year, so that’s what we’re trying to do,” Gooden said. “Records don’t matter if we’re handling our side of the square.”

NIU’s three remaining matches on this schedule will be on the road. The Huskies head to Ypsilanti, Michigan, to play Eastern Michigan University at 5 p.m. CST Friday and 3 p.m. CST Saturday at the George Gervin GameAbove Center. The regular season will end the following week with a rematch between NIU and the Western Michigan University Broncos.