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Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

Volleyball begins Parys’ era winless

Huskies fall to Chicago State, Illinois
Scott Walstrom | NIU Athletics
Senior setter Ella Mihacevich rises up to hit the volleyball in a Saturday matchup against the University of Illinois. (Scott Walstrom | Courtesy of NIU Athletics)

DeKALB – The debut of NIU volleyball’s first-year head coach Sondra Parys has come and gone, and the Huskies remain winless to begin the tenure of their new leader.

More than nine months after missing out on a MAC Tournament bid by four tiebreakers and an offseason filled with change, a revamped NIU volleyball program took the court Friday and Saturday for the season-opening Huskie Invitational.

This year’s edition of the annual tournament featured a two-match gauntlet against in-state adversaries – NCAA independent Chicago State University (CSU) and the Big Ten’s University of Illinois (UIUC).

Playing in the main arena of the NIU Convocation Center for the first time ever, the Huskies opened the 2023 campaign with back-to-back losses. NIU fell to Chicago State 3-2 Friday and Illinois 3-1 Saturday.

Pacing the Huskies’ offensive attack over both days was junior outside hitter Nikolette Nedic. In her first two games as a regular starter, Nedic tallied 35 kills. Her 21 kills on Friday were tied for the match lead. Nedic was one of two Huskies, along with senior setter Ella Mihacevich, to start every set between both matches.

Aiding her teammate’s effort at the net was junior middle blocker Charli Atiemo. The returning All-MAC Second Team selection notched 23 kills and seven block assists.

Junior libero Crew Hoffmeier recorded the team-high in digs –19 on Friday, 14 on Saturday – in her first two starts in NIU’s back row.

With the losses, Parys became the fourth NIU head coach to lose their Huskie debut (along with Lou Jean Moyer, Debbie Brue and Herb Summers) and the first to start their tenure 0-2, according to the 2023 NIU Volleyball Record Book. Friday’s defeat also marked NIU’s first loss in a non-conference opener since 2018.


NIU’s first test of the season had no shortage of ups-and-downs and back-and-forths. From early struggles in the first set, a fierce shootout in the third, to ending with a fifth nearly decided by a challenge.

After early miscues in the first set culminated in an early 1-0 lead for Chicago State, the Huskies logged a match-best .444 hitting performance in the second set to even the match.

The third set ended with 20 tied scores, 10 lead changes and was the only set to play past 25 points. Neither team could create more than three points of breathing room. With NIU on set point leading 26-25, senior outside hitter Yanlis Feliz notched three-straight kills to give the Cougars a 2-1 lead.

The Huskies dominated the fourth set by exploiting CSU slip-ups. The Cougars posted 10 attack errors, two service errors and a setting error. The NIU offense closed the affair with five kills to even the match and force the deciding fifth set.

NIU stepped in front early in the fifth before CSU jumped in front. A block by the Cougars spelled the end for NIU.

“I feel like we had a lot of ups and downs this game, but the ups were really up and I see a bright future with our team,” Nedic said. “I feel like once we play like how we played really well tonight, we’re going to go far.”


Both sides battled fiercely in Saturday’s clash between the Big Ten and the MAC. NIU’s serving unit registered five service aces to contribute to the Huskies’ early 1-0 advantage

Each of the remaining three sets progressed from closely-battled contests to Illinois advantages and eventual wins. Illinois senior outside hitter Raina Terry logged a match-leading 19 kills. Fighting Illini freshman libero Lily Barry posted 27 digs in her first match manning Illinois’ back row. 

Leading by as much as 13-7 in the fourth set, NIU saw UIUC battle back and eventually take a 21-20 lead. Illinois graduate student middle blocker Kennedy Collins had the match’s final two strike-downs, granting the Illini a win in their season debut.

While the final score didn’t go NIU’s way, Parys was impressed with her team’s performance against Big Ten competition.

“We went out, we served tough, we found different ways to score,” Parys said. “I think it shows the team that they can compete at a very high level.”

NIU volleyball received record-setting attendance in its second match playing in the Convocation Center. The Huskies played the Fighting Illini in front of a crowd of 1,468 Saturday. It was NIU’s first home stand against a Big Ten foe since hosting the University of Wisconsin at Victor E. Court in 2021.

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