NIU’s playoff hopes spoiled by Broncos in regular season finale

NIU drops midweek MACtion showdown in five sets

NIU+junior+right+side+hitter+Emily+Dykes+attacks+the+ball+over+the+net+during+Wednedays+Mid-American+Confernec+matchup+between+NIU+and+Western+Michigan+University+at+University+Arena+in+Kalamazoo%2C+Michigan.+Dykes+totaled+10+kills+in+the+match+as+NIU+lost+in+five+sets%2C+ending+their+chances+of+playing+in+the+2022+Mid-American+Conference+Tournament.+%28Courtesy+WMU+Athletics%29

Courtesy WMU Athletics

NIU junior right side hitter Emily Dykes attacks the ball over the net during Wedneday’s Mid-American Confernec matchup between NIU and Western Michigan University at University Arena in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Dykes totaled 10 kills in the match as NIU lost in five sets, ending their chances of playing in the 2022 Mid-American Conference Tournament. (Courtesy WMU Athletics)

By Skyler Kisellus, Sports Editor

DeKALB – NIU volleyball’s 2022 season is officially in the books after losing its chance to play in the postseason thanks to a 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Western Michigan University Broncos on Wednesday in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

The Huskies entered Wednesday’s midweek MACtion matchup in control of their own postseason destiny. NIU was in a win-and-in situation for the Mid-American Conference Tournament, holding the No. 6 seed in the conference standings.

The Huskies (17-11, 10-8 MAC) struggled late in their rematch with Broncos (17-13, 9-9 MAC) which served as NIU’s regular season finale. The defeat caused NIU to lose its grip on the MAC’s No. 6 seed. NIU volleyball head coach Ray Gooden and the Huskies ended the regular season with a worse record than the University at Buffalo Bulls, who overtook NIU in the standings.

“We battled and battled and put ourselves in a spot to find success and just came up a little short,” NIU volleyball head coach Ray Gooden said. “I thought our team really gave all they possibly could for this match tonight.”

Senior outside hitter Katie Jablonski ended her last match in NIU colors with a double-double. She logged a team-high 19 kills and added 15 digs.

King prove too much to handle

NIU’s defense faced the brunt of a career-best performance by WMU’s senior outside hitter Maggie King. She recorded two career highs on Wednesday, notching 30 kills on 78 swings.

“I thought she (King) did a nice job of just being real physical and terminating,” Gooden said. “Her and her setter (junior Logan Case) have been connecting for years.”

The Broncos also had two double-double performances come from its rotations. Sophomore outside hitter Julia Marr recorded 11 kills and 14 digs while Case had 57 assists and 13 digs.

NIU ends the season in heartbreak

NIU began the match on a bitter note as WMU sprung out to a 15-10 lead before the first set’s media timeout. The Broncos maintained a four-point separation for the remainder of the set to take a 1-0 lead in the match.

Junior outside hitter Abi Wilcoxson and King teamed up for 13 of the Broncos’ 19 kills in the first set, recording six and seven kills respectively.

The Huskies got back in the match with a 25-18 triumph in the second set. Both teams kept each other close on the scoreboard before NIU slipped away from a tie at 6-6. The Huskies held their highest lead of the set, eight points, five times throughout the set.

NIU continued to build on its success by taking set three 25-19.

WMU brought the match back to a draw with a 25-17 win after being down 2-1 in the match. The Huskies and Broncos battled up to a 9-9 draw before NIU lost the ability to keep up. WMU broke from the tie with a 12-3 scoring run to put the Broncos in position to force a fifth set. The Huskies mustered five more points before WMU took the set with a Case kill on set point.

NIU’s final set of the season started off slippery. The Broncos took off to a speedy 5-1 lead that forced NIU to call a timeout. The momentum failed to shift in the other direction as WMU rode to a 15-8 victory and claimed its final win on the team’s Senior Day.

The Huskies closed out the regular season with a 17-11 record, going 10-8 in the conference slate.

The seniors’ swansong

Wednesday’s defeat served as the finishing act in the college playing careers of NIU’s trio of senior outside hitters, Katie Jablonski, Brianna “Bina” Scuric and Kaitlyn “Kat” Bell.

Gooden made it a point to give appreciation to his group of departing seniors.

“I also want to make sure we salute and thank our seniors for what they’ve been able to do, help our group continue to get better,” Gooden said. “We wish them the best moving forward.”

Gooden and the returning group of Huskies will have the offseason ahead to prepare for their 2023 campaign.