Volleyball rages on in MAC

By Rhema Rhea

Volleyball has extended it conference-opening winning streak to six games, which marks NIU’s best start to MAC play since 1984.

The Huskies (13-7, 6-0 MAC) won a five-set thriller against the Eastern Michigan Eagles (26-24, 25-15, 19-25, 24-26, 15-10) Friday in Ypsilanti, Mich. They out-served the Central Michigan Chippewas en route to a four-set victory Saturday (25-16, 25-19, 23-25, 25-17) in Mount Pleasant, Mich.

“Being the end of a road trip I thought the level of focus was really good,” said head coach Ray Gooden. “The team was really focused on trying to play well for each other.”

Eastern Michigan

EMU (11-9, 2-4 MAC) had trouble getting its offense going due to NIU’s defense, which registered a season-high 16 blocks in the win. The Huskies’ defense also forced 33 Eagle attack errors.

“We were very scrappy because we knew we had to fight really hard because their defense is just as good as ours,” said sophomore defensive specialist Paige Dacanay. “So, we just worked really hard, and we kind of had a system going because we knew what they were likely to do, so we just kind of set up a defense that would work best against them.”

NIU was behind by a score of 17-11 at one point in the first set. The Huskies rallied behind a 13-7 run to tie the match at 24-24. The first-set win came after EMU collected a late error and Mackenzie Roddy, Lauren Zielinski and Emily Paschke came together for an opening-set winning block.

The Huskies had a chance to finish the match in the fourth set, playing close with the Eagles. The score was 19-18 Eagles late on in the fourth. The match went into extras with EMU eventually forcing a fifth set, taking the fourth set 26-24.

“… We were able to win a bunch of rallies early in the first two sets we did a really nice job,” Gooden said. “We knew we were going to be in a long one and we knew they were going to come pushing in the next two, and they did. We had a chance to win it in the fourth, but we just weren’t able to pull it out. And in the fifth we were able to just compose ourselves and play some pretty solid volleyball.”

The win in the fifth set got NIU off to a 7-4 start on the road and 5-0 start in the MAC.

“It’s a great felling coming out 5-0,” Paschke said. “Literally, it’s been great. I don’t know how else to explain it. But we’re really excited about it.”

NIU had four Huskies finish with double-digit spikes, including 23 from Roddy.

Central Michigan

NIU’s win Saturday over Central Michigan (7-11, 2-4 MAC) marked the fifth win against a division foe for the Huskies.

“Without getting too wrapped up in the numbers and all the history and stuff, it’s just nice that our group is doing some good things and we’re able to get some positive results from it,” Gooden said. “We feel good about the fact that the preseason helped us prepare for conference and we feel that we get a chance to battle in conference every night and we’ll do it in a positive way.”

The Huskies almost doubled their conference play total in aces. They went in with 13 and recorded 11 service aces against the Chippewas.

Gooden said the Huskies’ aces were a key behind the success in other areas of the game, including hitting and defense.

“We wanted to do it with one of our strengths, which has been serving,” Gooden said. “By the numbers you can see that, but I think that it helped with the rest of our volleyball. Our offense, with our defense, with everything. Our serving really helped us out.”

NIU collected a .306 attack percentage and 57 kills in the four-set MAC West Division win.