NIU spikers switch gears into start for NSC season

By Mike Morris

With more than half the season finished, the NIU volleyball team will shift gears and race into the North Star Conference season.

The Huskies (9-7) open their conference schedule today against the Illinois-Chicago Flames (11-11) at 7:30 p.m.

NIU head coach Pete Waite said he expects this to be a tough match against “one of the top teams statistically in the conference.” But he also said he feels the Huskies have benefitted from the difficulty of their non-conference schedule.

“We’ve played a strong schedule, and we’ve just come off a trip to California that provided us with some excellent competition,” Waite said.

The Huskies came back from California with a split. NIU beat U.S. International and then lost to Cal-Irvine. But, even more important was the opportunity it gave Waite and assistant coach Lori Sowatsky to evaluate the team against top-notch competition.

“It helped us get a good look at what our strengths and weaknesses are and what we still need to work on,” Waite said.

The Flames will be led by returning outside hitters Sharon Tracy and Dee Ann Ericks, although head coach Don August said his team is not centered around the performance of one or two players.

“We tend to spread the offense around and try to get a lot of people contributing,” August said.

The Flames enter tonight’s match after a loss to Virginia Saturday night. August said his team is prepared for the Huskies but admits he has no more to go on than comparing NIU’s records against common opponents.

“It looks like we’re a little bit of an underdog based on comparison scores,” August said, “but it’s hard to make a prediction based on comparison scores.”

It is also hard to compare two teams based on past experience. The Flames lead the series 21-17 and the teams split two matches last season.

But, this is a new season, and the Huskies have a new coaching staff that has stressed aggressive play from the start.

“We know that UI-C is one of the top teams in the conference, probably the top team, and we must contend with them,” Waite said. “It’s a great challenge to start the conference against one of the league’s best.”

The match will be taped by Sportsvision and replayed Saturday, Oct. 22, at 2 p.m.