Volleyball set for MAC tourney

By Mike Romor

Volleyball has gone through a rigorous regular season that ended with the team’s best performance of the year.

Now looking at a fifth seed in the MAC Tournament, NIU (18-12, 10-6 MAC) prepares for a 1 p.m. match Friday at the SPIRE Institute in Ohio against the defending MAC champion: fourth-seeded Bowling Green.

In last season’s only regular season meeting with Bowling Green (14-14, 10-6), NIU won at home in four sets. Since then, the Huskies have lost two matches against the Falcons they would desperately like to have back.

NIU has made it to three straight MAC Championship matches only to fall. Last season, NIU held a 2-1 lead going into the fourth set against Bowling Green. The Falcons took control from that point, winning the fourth frame 25-20, then the fifth, 15-4.

In its only matchup this season with the MAC East foe, NIU struggled again, losing in straight sets on the road. Between the last two matches, NIU has a combined .117 hitting percentage with 49 attack errors.

The latest loss to Bowling Green came near the beginning of NIU’s conference schedule and started a stretch in which it lost five of eight MAC battles.

NIU has bounced back, winning six of its last seven MAC contests. NIU is hot at the right time, as it looks ahead at a challenging match against the team that has been its recent cross-divisional enemy.

“We’re looking forward to this match,” said head coach Ray Gooden. “Hell, we’re excited to be here. This was a crazy, competitive season, and there were people fighting up until the last day just to be in the tournament. So we’re happy to be here, and now we’re going to work really hard to continue to play better volleyball.”

Bowling Green has been inconsistent late in the season, losing four of its final seven matches, including a 3-2 loss to Buffalo to end the season. Buffalo did not qualify for the MAC Tournament this year.

Bowling Green ranked third in MAC play in opponent hitting percentage this season, largely because of strong blocking. Kaitlyn Skinner led the conference in blocks per set, averaging 1.45. As a team, Bowling Green has averaged 2.50 blocks per set.

NIU enters the match coming off a win over second-seeded Toledo to end the regular season, during which senior middle blocker Sarah Angelos delivered one of her patented efficient performances, hitting .391 with 11 kills on 23 swings.

Angelos ranked seventh in MAC contests in both kills per set and hitting percentage this season for NIU.

Junior outside hitter Mackenzie Roddy led the Huskies in kills in the regular season and ranked fifth in kills per set in conference play, averaging 3.43 kills per set.

Roddy and Angelos will have to continue their strong play and find gaps up front for the Huskies to win. In their match against Bowling Green this season, they each posted six kills, with Angelos hitting .267 while Roddy tallied eight digs.

The winner of the match will advance to the semifinals and face the winner of top-seeded Ohio and Kent State, who play at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. NIU lost to Ohio but beat Kent State in the regular season.

NIU defeated Ohio in last season’s MAC Tournament semifinals in a five-setter, coming back from a 2-0 deficit.