Volleyball onto MAC semifinals

By Rhema Rhea

After one of the best regular seasons in the Ray Gooden era, volleyball (21-9, 14-2 MAC) will journey to Athens, Ohio, for the 2014 MAC Tournament.

This weekend, the Huskies will look to put a season-ending loss behind them and go deep into the MAC Tournament. They clinched the MAC West title and the No. 2 seed in the tournament.

The Huskies earned a double-bye into the semifinal and will play 6:30 p.m. Sunday against either the No. 3 Miami (Ohio) RedHawks, the No. 6 Eastern Michigan Eagles or the No. 7 Kent State Golden Flashes.

“All three are big battles,” Gooden said. “Two of the three teams we played five-set matches against and one of them we played a four-set [match] against. We know that they are all going to be a very strong [matchup]. We’re going to have to play a pretty solid rate of volleyball to do well against them.”

NIU has gotten to at least the MAC semifinals for four straight seasons, including back-to-back championship game appearances in 2011 and 2012.

Eastern Michigan will see Kent State at 6:30 p.m. Friday with the winner taking on No. 3 Miami 6:30 p.m. Saturday. The Huskies will take on the winner of Miami vs. Eastern Michigan/Kent State in the semifinals.

No. 3 Miami

Miami (19-9, 12-4 MAC) and NIU have played once this season, and the Huskies took the meeting 3-2 Oct. 4 in Oxford, Ohio.

The victory put NIU at 4-0 in conference play for the first time since 1997. The first meeting was a total team effort with senior outside hitter Mackenzie Roddy posting a match-high 25 kills and 15 digs to complete a double-double. Junior setter Alexis “Pookie” Gonzalez, who finished the regular season second in the MAC in assists, finished the match with 58 assists. Sophomore Jenna Radtke notched 17 kills, and freshman libero Anna Brereton collected 23 digs.

No. 6 Eastern Michigan

Eastern Michigan (18-12, 9-7 MAC) will be set up for aremeatch of NIU’s Senior Night loss to the Eagles if it gets through Kent State and Miami in the first round and the quarterfinals, respectively.

The Huskies are coming off a Saturday 3-2 loss to the Eagles at Victor E. Court. NIU stormed back from a 0-2 deficit, taking two straight sets to make it 2-2, but it fell short in the fifth set, 11-15. The loss was NIU’s second in MAC play and first home loss since an Aug. 30 3-0 loss to the Northwestern Wildcats.

No. 7 Kent State

NIU took down Kent State (16-13, 8-8 MAC) for the second consecutive time this season behind a .307 attack percentage and 64 kills Oct. 24. The offense and serving featured five service aces and held the top blocking team in the MAC (272.5) to five blocks on the night. The Huskies tallied 67 digs and nine blocks during the 3-1 victory.

“We knew that in order to win a championship we were going to have to do it away from Victor E. Court,” Gooden said. “We’re very happy with the success that we’ve had at home, but we knew we’re going to have to do it in the road in Ohio. We’ve been working really hard to have positive results on the road, and we want to continue that as we head into this part of the season.”