Akron, UIC offer toughest obstacle in the North Star

By Jennifer Hutchins

As NIU head volleyball coach Pete Waite said, his Huskies “have got their work cut out for them right off the bat.”

Waite was referring to the start of North Star Conference play which begins in DeKalb, Friday against Akron University. Not only do the Huskies (13-3) have their work cut out for them against Akron, but with the entire NSC.

“We’ve got some tough nonconference competition in between that we’d like to win, ” Waite said. “But obviously the conference matches are going to be important.”

NIU faces five NSC opponents in a row starting Friday and are looking to better last season’s 6-1 co-championship mark with DePaul. 1990 marked DePaul’s last year in the NSC, but the competition from other NSC foes has stiffened.

In particular, it looks as though Akron and the University of Illinois-Chicago could give the Huskies their biggest share of headaches.

Akron finished fourth in the NSC last year but went on to snatch the NSC tournament crown in a second-round upset over NIU. The Zips’ first-place tourney finish gave them an automatic bid to the Women’s Invitational Volleyball Championship.

Once again Akron is off to a good start. Jill McCreary, a senior outside hitter and the 1990 North Star Conference MVP, has returned along with eight other letterwinners to help the Lady Zips to a 12-7 ledger and two undefeated tournament appearances.

Meanwhile, UIC stands as one of NIU’s most unpredictable competitors. The Flames defeated the Huskies twice during regular season play last year (NIU’s only NSC loss) before taking a fourth-place finish in the conference tournament.

As of Thursday, Valparaiso University (13-8) and Wright State (10-8) were the only other NSC teams with a “pre-conference” winning record. Wisconsin Green-Bay stands at 6-6, while UIC (6-8) and Cleveland State (9-13) are bringing up the rear.

“Records can be deceiving,” Waite said. “Some teams, such as UIC, play some extemely hard teams before conference starts. They play the top teams, get some good competitive matches going and even though they might lose, they come into conference matches ready to play some really good ball.

“We don’t look at season records,” Waite added. “We just concentrate on preparations before the match and doing what we have to to win.”

NIU hosts Akron University Friday before a Homecoming night- game against Cleveland State, Saturd