Volleyball sets off season in the NIU Invitational

By Justin Kelley

DeKALB —  Over the weekend the volleyball team kicked off its season with two victories and one defeat when it hosted the annual NIU Invitational.

In match one, the Huskies defeated Fairleigh Dickinson University Knights, three sets to one. The Huskies didn’t have the same success against Southern Illinois University Cougars Edwardsville, losing three sets to one.

Junior middle blocker Kennedy Wallace’s career-high 21 kills helped the Huskies to a victory against University of California – Riverside three sets to two in the third match of the invitational.

Match One

NIU jumped out to an early lead in the first set, scoring seven points in the first nine rallies of the game. The Huskies increased their lead to 12-5 on an attack error by Knights sophomore middle hitter Booke Stevens.

The Knights cut the deficit 17-16 in the first set after a kill by FDU junior setter McKenna Setterlund. The late push by FDU wasn’t enough as the Huskies took the first set 25-21 on a kill by junior middle blocker Kenndy Wallace.

First-year outside hitter Kaitlyn Bell led the way for the Huskies with five kills and boasted a hitting percentage of .625. NIU also received contributions from junior middle blocker Jasmine Kemp with five kills.

Kemp went into depth on what she has been working on to improve her game over the summer.

“It’s the reps I put in over the spring season and practice,” Kemp said. “I focused on my arm swing.”

The momentum switched sides in the second set as the Knights jumped out to a 4-0 lead on two aces by sophomore libero Jaelyn Young. NIU tied the set up 9-9 on an attack error by FDU first-year outside hitter Mujay Mambu. 

FDU retook control of the set out-scoring the Huskies 11-5 over the next 16 volleys and went on to win the set 25-18.

Kemp again led the way for the Huskies in the second set with three kills and a hitting percentage of .500.

Both teams battled back and forth in the fourth set, with three lead changes. NIU took the lead 13-12 on an ace by junior defensive specialist Miranda Karlen and never looked back.

The Knights wouldn’t go down quietly, as they tied the game at 24 after a kill by junior outside hitter Victoria Demmene. However, it was not enough as NIU went on to win the set and match 26-24.

Coach Ray Gooden spoke about his team’s performance and said the win is a sign of progress.

“I think it’s a step for us,” Gooden said.”I think it’s cool that we’re doing things and was it nice to get a win.”

Match Two

Both teams started the first set neck and neck, as they were tied four times. The Cougars created some separation after a kill by SIUE senior middle blocker Kiana Fields gave them the lead, 18-14.

The Cougars lead did not last as NIU outscored them 7-2 over the next nine rallies, taking a 21-20 lead. The Huskies could not capitalize on the momentum though, and the Cougars completed the comeback to win 26-24.

The action continued in the second set as the teams again traded the lead four times. NIU took control of the set after an 8-0 run, giving the Huskies a 22-15 lead. 

First-year outside hitter Kaitlyn Bell started it off with a kill. The Cougars cut the deficit down to 24-23 after a kill by junior outside hitter Rachel Mcdonald. However, the late run was not enough as NIU took set two 25-23.

The Cougars came out with high intensity in the third set of the match, taking a commanding lead of 11-3. NIU struggled to find balance with back-to-back attack errors from Bell and senior middle blocker Brinley Milbrath. The Cougars would go on to take the set 25-16.

The fourth and final set had both teams battle for control with six lead changes. NIU took the lead late in the set 18-17 after a kill by junior middle blocker Kennedy Wallace. 

SIUE stormed back as they went on a 6-1 run to win the set 25-23.

NIU was lead by Wallace and Bell as both tallied nine kills in the match while SIUE was commanded by Mcdonald, who had 21 kills.

Bell is excited to be playing for an NCAA Division One program.

 “So far my experience has been awesome, especially as a [first-year] playing [division one] volleyball and playing with these girls.” Bell said.

Match Three

The first set of the match was a thriller as the teams battled for control. There were six lead changes, but NIU won the set 27-25, with a match high 19 kills and a hitting percentage of .361.

The Huskies were led by senior middle blocker Brinley Milbrath, first-year outside hitter Peyton Tilly and Wallace, who all had five kills. 

In the second set NIU did not have similar success. The Huskies had eight attack errors and had a game-low 11 kills. UC Riverside took advantage of the Huskie miscues and went on to win the set 24-17.

The Highlanders were led by junior opposite hitter Alexis Vanlandingham and first-year outside hitter Ashley Dittman, who combined for nine kills

The action spiked once again in the third set when both teams traded the lead five times. NIU went on to win the set 28-26, with a match-high hitting percentage of .382.

Wallce led the way for the Huskies in the third set with five kills and two block assists.

UC Riverside bounced back in the fourth set with a hitting percentage of .406 and won 25-16. Dittman led the Highlanders in the set with four kills and three digs.

The fifth and final set was a wild one, as there were five ties and one lead change between the teams. NIU went on to win the set 15-13 led by Bell who had five kills.

The Huskies next game is against Chicago State University 6 p.m Tuesday at the Dickens Athletics Center in Chicago, IL.