Huskies motivated after missing 2017 postseason

Huskies+motivated+after+missing+2017+postseason

Huskies motivated after missing 2017 postseason

By Khobi Price

The volleyball team is looking to bounce back from its difficult 2017 campaign as NIU missed the Mid-American Conference tournament for the first time since 2002.

“There are no excuses [for last season] from a standpoint of wins and losses,” said head coach Ray Gooden. “We played a really tough schedule, battled against some good teams and had a lot of new faces. It is my job as head coach to try to get everybody on board as fast as possible and I didn’t do that. So, I worked really hard to try to help people bond together more, and I feel like doing that helps us play more team-like and more trustworthy volleyball.”

The Huskies worked on building their bond as a team when they helped out as support staff volunteers for the U.S. Men’s National Volleyball Team at the FIVB Volleyball Nations League matches.

“I thought that experience was massive for us as far as the bonding process and also seeing professional players.” Gooden said. “I think just understanding what the best of the best do and how they handled it. They see how the best players interact together and how they stay a team whether they’re up or they’re down. Those are the biggest things they got from it, and I think that was a real cool thing to be a part of.”

NIU will have roster continuity for the 2018 campaign as they return nine players from last season. Gooden said experience is what separates this year’s team from last season’s.

He said he is looking for the veteran athletes to play the most confident, most consistent level of volleyball they possibly can.

Included in the group of returning players is senior middle blocker Meg Wolowicz. She is expected to be a significant contributor after participating in the 2018 U.S. Women’s National Team Open Tryout in March.

“Hopefully she can work on putting it all together,” Gooden said. “It is her last go and I think she needs to try to work really hard to do her best in her final season. I think that is one of our goals and expectations; for her to play her best volleyball. What that means, I cannot explain specifically, but it just means to try to be her most consistent, complete and her most team-like.”

The Huskies will be without five players from last season, including outside hitter sophomore Kaylee Martin, who transferred to Illinois State University.

“Anybody who leaves our program gives somebody else the opportunity to step up,” Gooden said. That is what we are looking for. Someone to step in and not dwell in the past, but what we can gain now from the opportunity of someone else stepping in.”

Martin led NIU in kills for the 2017 season with 404. Gooden said scoring more points is an aspect of the game the team needs to work on after ranking last in kills per set last season.

Middle blockers Jasmine Kemp and Angie Gromos, setter Grace Balensiefer and defensive specialist Kelsy Turskey are the team’s four incoming freshmen. Junior setter Amanda Krahl will round out the Huskies newcomers, transferring from Appalachian State University.

“All of those kids have a chance right away to help us have an impact,” Gooden said. “I want those guys to step in and help us right away. Hopefully they can feel comfortable to play at their level, feel confident about their volleyball and continue to help us get where we want to get to, which is hopefully to compete for a MAC championship.”

Gooden said everyone is excited to get going, and the team is focusing on bonding.

“Our standards are always to be the best we can be in whatever situation is in front of us,” Gooden said. “So, it is our goal to be 100 percent even though you might not feel 100 percent. When we can maximize that, I think we can do things that help make our program and team competitive.”

The Huskies will kick-off their season with the annual NIU Invitational, with the first match against the DePaul Blue Demons 7 p.m. Aug. 24 at Victor E. Court.