Loggins: Volleyball will likely take MAC Tournament

By Christopher Loggins

Women’s volleyball has put a storybook season together, and I don’t expect them to slow down as the MAC Tournament approaches this weekend.

The Huskies started 4-6 at the beginning of the season, and it didn’t look like a team that would end the season as strong as it did. The team had two losing streaks of at least three games fairly early in the season, and were shut out on three different occasions. Three of the team’s early losses in the year came to ranked teams including Ohio State, Florida State and Kentucky. All of those teams were ranked in the top 22 nationally when the Huskies played them — a big part of the reason I didn’t think those games would define NIU’s season.

I thought the team could play better than it had been, but I surely didn’t think it would go on the incredible run that it has over the last couple of months. The Huskies were 4-8 through 12 games and didn’t seem to have any identity as a group. They had the pieces in place to be successful, but it didn’t seem as if they were coming with the same effort on a nightly basis.

The Huskies have lost only two games since their Sept. 25 game against Central Michigan. They’ve won 14 of their last 16 games and ended the season on a seven-game winning streak.

Their final record at the end of the regular season is 18-10, but I think it probably would have been even better if they hadn’t experienced the slip ups they did early in the year. The team finished 14-2 in the MAC, taking losses to Ball State and Kent State at different points in its exceptional run.

I do believe that although the team is better than what its record shows, the early losses it took were big factors in making the team as hungry as it is now. The Huskies never seemed to get too excited over a win, and never lost their focus over the last two months of the season. They swept 11 of their last 16 games including the last seven games of the year.

The team hasn’t lost a set in nearly a month. The last time it lost a set in a match was in an Oct. 23 game against Kent State when it lost 3-1, which is also its last loss.

Competition rises when more is on the line, and I do think the MAC Tournament will be much tougher for the Huskies as teams will likely play with a lot more grit and effort. The team won the MAC West and the MAC regular season title at the end of the season, earning a double bye to start the tourney.

If I were asked a couple months ago if I thought this team could be victorious in the MAC Tournament, I’d say there was no chance. A big part of sports, though, is getting hot at the right time, and I think the Huskies have done just that. They’ve put together a great string of games, and there isn’t a team in the MAC hotter than them in my opinion. I expect the Huskies to be MAC Champions in a very short time.

I also believe this team has a chance to be even better next season, regardless of how well they finish this season. Not going deep into the tournament this year would be a disappointment, but the team has a ton of good youth returning who can help it go even further.