Huskies travel to Normal to rekindle NIU-ISU feud

By Jeff Kirik

The Illinois State and NIU softball teams are proof that big-time rivalries are not restricted to big-time sports.

The long series of competition between the two schools will continue today as 8-9 NIU travels to ISU, 17-7, to play an afternoon doubleheader. Since 1959, the Redbirds have won 34 of the 54 contests between the two teams, but NIU has taken nine of the last 20 games since 1981.

Even though their games do not compare with famous rivalries such as the Boston Celtics vs. the Los Angeles Lakers or the Green Bay Packers against the Chicago Bears, both coaches said there is something special when the Huskies and the Redbirds meet.

“I think it’s a good rivalry,” said Redbird Coach Melinda Fisher. “It’s not a real blood-‘n-guts rivalry, but we play each other a lot, and the kids get psyched up for it.

“Even though, I think our kids get psyched up for every game against a team in our regional. But they might get a little more fired up for NIU because we play them so often.”

NIU coach Dee Abrahamson said one of the reasons why the two teams have come to be rivals is that the schools are located close to each other. She added another reason for the intense competition between the two squads.

“We recruit in the same area as they do—the Chicago suburban area,” Abrahamson said. “We (the NIU and ISU coaches) run into each other a lot at of our recruits’ games. Usually, when the kids pick from the top two or three schools they want to go to, both our schools are in there.”

Abrahamson also said her team enjoys playing ISU because the Redbirds are ranked 15th in the nation.

“Everybody realizes that it is a state rivalry, and them being ranked makes it even more important. We know we have to beat ranked teams if we want to make it to the NCAA tournament,” she said.

So far this season the Huskies and the Redbirds have split two games. Both games were close, low-scoring games.

“I thought in the first two games that each team that lost just didn’t play very well and the winning team took advantage of it,” Fisher said.

Abrahamson said ISU’s main strength is its experience and its pitching. The Redbirds feature two junior pitchers, including Lori Vogel, who fashions a 12-6 record.

“They have a lot of juniors in their lineup that have been around together for a while and had a chance to gel as a team,” Abrahamson said.

Fisher said NIU’s offensive strength concerns her. Led by centerfielder Jill Justin, shortstop Amy Veld and first baseman Sue Kause, the Huskies have posted a team batting average of over .300.

“They’re probably one of the strongest offensive teams in the region,” Fisher said. “Jill Justin is one of the best hitters I’ve seen.

“They (the Huskies) can beat you with singles, but they also beat you with the long ball. We’re going to have to keep them off the bases and score some runs to win.”

The Redbirds, however, have also had no trouble offensively. Their hitting punch has come from Kerri Donis, who is hitting .359 and Becky Barrigar who is at .328.