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Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

Volleyball braces for Ball State battle

Huskies head to Muncie for road finale
Tim Dodge
NIU graduate student right side hitter Isabelle Percoco hits the ball during a rally in the Oct. 27 match against the University of Akron. The Huskies fell in three sets as one of their seven consecutive defeats entering Friday’s series-opener against Ball State University. (Tim Dodge | Northern Star)

DeKALB – Play smarter, not harder.

The four words used by NIU volleyball head coach Sondra Parys to describe the goal for her squad in preparation for its final road trip of the regular season.

The Huskies (8-19, 6-9 MAC) will travel eastbound to Muncie, Indiana, to confront the Ball State University Cardinals (14-12, 11-4 MAC) in a square-off between the No. 1 and No. 2 blocking teams in the MAC. Both sides have denied more than 200 opposing attacks this season.

“We’re going to see physicality from them, they’re big,” Parys said after Tuesday’s practice. “They, obviously, have been successful. They’re well-coached. They’re going to be an elite-level team. Our job is to just be smart and push them in maybe a different way than they’re used to.”

Parys explained that her idea of “playing smarter” entails complete focus on a game plan designed to make Ball State feel uneasy.

“If you don’t have an opportunity to score, you’re intentionally taking somebody out or getting them in trouble and, just, trying to make them uncomfortable is the goal,” Parys said. “Whether that’s with our decision-making from an attacking standpoint, the service line, what defense we’re running, there’s a lot of things that we can do there to just try to throw them off.”


NIU has been on the losing end of each of its past four meetings with Ball State. The latest NIU win in the series dates back to Feb. 19, 2021, during the COVID-19-impacted 2020-2021 season. The Huskies swept the Cardinals in Muncie.

NIU begins the weekend dogged by a seven-match slump after consecutive home defeats by the University of Toledo on Friday and Saturday. 

Junior middle blocker Charli Atiemo and senior opposite/outside hitter Emily Dykes continue to be two of the MAC’s 10 most efficient hitters. The former is hitting .321 while the latter trails with a .307 hitting percentage.

Atiemo is also the league runner-up in blocks, averaging 1.09 blocks per set. Her 112 total blocks lead the conference.

Backing up Atiemo and the front row’s efforts, junior libero Crew Hoffmeier is recording a team-best average of 4.48 digs per set. Hoffmeier’s digging rate is third-best in the MAC.


Ball State heads into its final home weekend after successive road losses to conference titan Western Michigan University. The Cardinals secured a spot in the 2023 MAC Tournament on Saturday.

Redshirt freshman middle blocker Aniya Kennedy paces the Cardinals and the MAC in kills, averaging 4.11 per set. She is also the league’s top scorer with 4.49 points per set.

Ball State possesses two of the league’s top-10 blockers. Freshman middle blocker Camryn Wise is the MAC’s blocking leader with 1.22 blocks per set. Sophomore opposite hitter Madison Buckley adds 0.89 blocks per set to rank seventh in the conference.


Though the Huskies remain in the hunt for a spot in the MAC Tournament, they do not control their own destiny. If NIU fails to win out, the Huskies will be eliminated from postseason contention. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are already postseason-bound and playing for tournament seeding. 

Parys hopes her team can begin a strong finish to the season, even if the score doesn’t favor NIU.

“I want us to finish on a high, whether it’s with three wins or not,” Parys said. “Obviously, that’s the goal and anything’s possible, but I want them to feel good walking away from the season, that they got better as a team, they got better individually and that this program is taking a step in the right direction.”

The series-opening match begins at 5 p.m. CT Friday at Worthen Arena in Muncie, Indiana. ESPN+ will broadcast streams of Friday’s and Saturday’s matches. Live statistics can be accessed on SIDEARM Sports.

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