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Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

Huskies to host Zips, Bulls in homestand

Volleyball readying defense of No. 6 seed
Skyler Kisellus
From left: Junior defensive specialist/libero Jada Cerniglia, senior setter Ella Mihacevich, junior libero Crew Hoffmeier, senior opposite/outside hitter Emily Dykes, sophomore middle blocker Savanah Brandt and graduate student outside hitter Katie Erdmann rejoice after a rally in NIU’s homecoming matchup with the Eastern Michigan University Eagles on Oct. 13 at Victor E. Court. The Huskies will host the University of Akron on Friday and the University at Buffalo on Saturday in hopes of remaining undefeated at Victor E. Court. (Skyler Kisellus | Northern Star)

NIU volleyball is more than halfway through MAC play and holds a soft grip of the final playoff seed as it prepares for battle with two of the country’s best serving squads.

NIU (8-15, 6-5 MAC) will play host to the University of Akron (10-12, 5-6 MAC) and the University at Buffalo (19-4, 9-2 MAC) at Victor E. Court to begin a four-match home stand.

The Huskies enter the weekend with a three-game losing streak after a winless spell in Michigan. NIU was dismantled in straight sets on Oct. 17 by MAC leader Western Michigan University before suffering a sweep in its season series with Central Michigan University on Friday and Saturday.


NIU continues to prove itself as one of the league’s top defenses and most efficient hitters. The squad sits among the top five in hitting percentage, blocks and digs.

The middle blocker pairing of junior Charli Atiemo and sophomore Savanah Brandt are each top-10 in the MAC in blocks, averaging 1.06 and 0.86 per set respectively. 

Atiemo is also among the league’s top 10 players in hitting percentage, along with senior opposite/outside hitter Emily Dykes. The former is hitting .326 for the season while the latter has recorded .310 hitting.

Junior libero Crew Hoffmeier is third in the MAC in digs, averaging 4.57 per set. 


Akron comes to DeKalb as the loser of its past five matchups. The Zips fell in back-to-back matches against the University of Toledo on Friday and Saturday.

Redshirt junior outside hitter Faith Johnson guides the Akron attack with 3.43 kills per set, the seventh-best average in the MAC. Freshman libero Vanessa Del Real leads the back row with 3.82 digs per set.

As a team, the Zips top the conference and rank eighth in the nation in service aces, averaging 2.10 per set. Akron boasts three of the league’s top-10 players from the service line. Freshman setter Eliska Vytiskova leads the way at No. 3, shadowed by Del Real at No. 4 with Johnson rounding out the list at No. 10.


The Bulls will join the fray in DeKalb after their Friday face-off with Western Michigan in a clash of the conference’s top two teams. Buffalo is currently hitting .267 as a team to lead the MAC.

Senior outside hitter Katrin Trebichavska ranks ninth in the MAC with a team-leading 3.40 kills per set. Junior setter Mandy Leigh begins the weekend as the conference’s second-best setter, averaging 10.24 assists per set. On defense, junior libero/outside hitter Maria Futey paces the Bulls with 3.56 digs per set.

Trebichsvska is sixth nationally with 50 service aces, averaging 0.60 per set.


Four products of Padua Franciscan High School in Parma, Ohio will regather on the same volleyball court during Saturday’s contest.

NIU senior setter Ella Mihacevich will be pressed into action against three of her former teammates: Mandy Leigh, fifth-year outside hitter/middle blocker Abby Leigh and Futey.

All four were members of the 2018 Bruins team that finished as the state runner-up with a 27-2 overall record.


NIU heads into its home stay in possession of the MAC’s No. 6 seed.

The Huskies can only climb one spot by overtaking Ohio University for the No. 5 seed, which requires NIU to sweep the weekend and Ohio to drop both of its matches.

In the worst-case scenario, NIU can stumble to No. 9 if it loses both matches, Akron defeats Western Michigan on Saturday and Central Michigan wins both of its matches.

An NIU defeat in any of its remaining matches will also guarantee a losing season for the Huskies.


The Huskies will begin play against Akron at 6 p.m. Friday at Victor E. Court. Fans attending the match are encouraged to wear black for NIU’s “Black Out” game. ESPN+ will provide streams of Friday’s and Saturday’s matches. Live statistics will be available on SIDEARM Sports.

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