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Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

COLUMN: Volleyball played better than its record

Why the Huskies’ horrid record does not define them
Amber Pietz
Junior libero Crew Hoffmeier serves the ball during a Nov. 11 match against Ball State University at John E. Worthen Arena in Muncie, Indiana. NIU volleyball finished its 2023 campaign with a final record of 8-22, a record that Sports Reporter Skyler Kisellus believes doesn’t define the team and its future. (Amber Pietz | Ball State Creative Services)

With NIU volleyball’s 2023 campaign now over and a 22-loss season in the books, the Sondra Parys coaching era at NIU is off to a solid start.

Before anyone begins questioning my sobriety, know that I’m not blind to the results from this past season.

Yes, NIU closed out the season with 10 consecutive losses. 

Yes, NIU ended with an 8-22 overall record, one of the worst finishes in program history.

If one were to judge NIU’s season strictly by wins and losses, it’s easy to call 2023 a bad year. However, the records don’t tell the full story. They hardly ever do.

Not only were the Huskies under the command of a first-year head coach and a new coaching staff, but they also had to adjust to a revamped roster. All that while playing through a 30-match schedule that didn’t cut them much slack.


NIU’s 2023 slate included battles with three NCAA Tournament participants — the University of Dayton (31-2, 18-0 A10), the University of Northern Iowa (26-6, 18-0 MVC) and Western Michigan University (31-2, 18-0 MAC). 

All three championed their respective conferences while Dayton and Western Michigan were the only Division I squads to finish with 30 or more wins.

The Huskies also faced five of the country’s top 25 terminal arms in non-conference play alone. The list is headlined by University of Evansville junior right side Giulia Cardona – the national leader in total kills and kills per set – and University of Illinois senior outside hitter Raina Terry.

If that wasn’t enough, remember that NIU plays in a fiercely competitive conference. The MAC is usually a toss-up in any given year and features mid-major heavyweights like Western Michigan, Ball State University and Ohio University.  


Even with a difficult schedule and plenty working against it, NIU still managed to put on some impressive performances.

The Huskies earned their arguably biggest win of the season during their MAC-opening series at Bowling Green State University. NIU downed the then-defending MAC champions in five sets on Sept. 22.

The following week, NIU swept its home series with the Miami University RedHawks, and in the process, defeated coaching legend Carolyn Condit twice in her 40th and final season.

While the Huskies began tumbling in the standings in mid-October, the late-season stretch is where NIU played some of its best volleyball.

The Huskies battled to five sets against Ball State in their road finale on Nov. 11. While it might not sound like much, NIU was one of four squads – along with 17th-ranked Creighton University, the University at Buffalo and Bowling Green – to go the distance with the high-powered Ball State squad, and the first to do it in Cardinal territory.

When it came time for a rematch with Western Michigan on Nov. 15, the Huskies put on a show at Victor E. Court for their regular season finale. The result of the match was a straight-set sweep for Western Michigan, but the match was anything but lopsided. 

The Huskies had the Broncos on the ropes in the opening stages and kept matters close throughout the contest. If a few WMU runs were nixed sooner, NIU could’ve very well pulled off the spoiler of the Broncos’ unbeaten MAC record.


The past season saw multiple NIU players take a step in a positive direction, namely on defense.

In NIU’s backcourt, junior libero Crew Hoffmeier thrived in her first season as a Huskie. Hoffmeier, a former Virginia Commonwealth University transfer, finished 2023 with 511 total digs and 4.60 digs per set. Both marks ranked third in the MAC.  

Junior middle blocker Charli Atiemo continued to prove why she’s a force to be reckoned with at the net. Atiemo led the MAC in total blocks at 127 and ranked second in blocks per set, averaging 1.10 per set. She was also NIU’s leader in service aces (26) and second in kills (228). 

Atiemo and sophomore transfer middle blocker Savanah Brandt finished top-10 in the MAC in blocks per set, making them one of the conference’s most terminal blocking duos.


All things considered, 2023 was a solid season for a rebuilding NIU team and should be considered as such. Remaining in the conversation for a MAC Tournament spot up until the final weekend of the regular season makes NIU’s performance all the more impressive.

Make no mistake, I have the utmost confidence in Parys’ ability to lead NIU volleyball and restore the program to its former glory. She has experience in the MAC – both as a player and a coach – she’s proven willing and able to make tough decisions and, by all appearances, has her players bought in to her vision.

I’m excited to see what’s next for this team, and you should be too.

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