Volleyball not looking psat bottom-of-table MAC teams

By Mike Romor

Following three dominant home performances, volleyball will head to Michigan this weekend for a pair of road matches against two teams at the bottom of the MAC West standings.

NIU’s (15-11, 7-5 MAC) divisional battles begin 6:30 p.m. Friday against Central Michigan (11-13, 5-7) and concludes with a 6 p.m. contest at Eastern Michigan (14-13, 4-8).

NIU hosted both teams already this season, beating each in four sets. The previous victories capped off a strong stretch from the Huskies, having won six of seven at the time.

After struggling for a bit, NIU has found winning ways once again heading into this weekend, having won four of its last five games and three in a row.

While NIU is on a nice run, it has been inconsistent on the road. Three of their last four wins came at home, but the Huskies have only won two away matches this season, going 2-4 in MAC away contests.

“We have to play consistently on the road,” said head coach Ray Gooden. “There’s nothing crazy to it. We just have to play with more confidence and have an understanding of how difficult it is to play on the road.”

A weekend win would likely confirm a MAC Tournament spot for the Huskies, but Gooden said his team is focused on this weekend and cannot be thinking ahead. His team might be directing its focus toward Central Michigan junior outside hitter Kaitlyn McIntyre.

McIntyre places second in the MAC in kills per set, averaging 4.05 in conference play. While she is a great hitter, she is not a great blocker. The Chippewas are ineffective at times up front, which led to 18 Huskie blocks in their first encounter of the season.

NIU’s Saturday affair will feature another team it beat in four sets earlier in the season.

Eastern Michigan has been disappointing in conference play this season. After a strong early season win over the Toledo Rockets, the Eagles have failed to win any of their six divisional matches.

Just like the Chippewas, the Eagles have lost their last two matches. In its previous matchup with NIU, Eastern Michigan found no solution to stopping NIU’s middle blockers. Senior Sarah Angelos and freshman Jenna Radtke controlled the match, combining for 27 kills and a .457 hitting percentage.

“We handled the ball well,” Gooden said. “We gave ourselves the best opportunities to score because we passed well, we controlled the ball and we stayed consistent.”

The Eagles rely on sophomore libero Corynne Smith, who has averaged 5.30 digs per set in MAC play. She ranks third in that category while NIU senior libero Justine Schepler ranks ninth with 4.36 digs per set.

Eastern Michigan’s back row leads the MAC in digs per set with 17.31, but its offense has been a concern. The Eagles rank next-to-last in kills per set, hitting percentage and assists.

“We expect nothing but their best on Saturday,” Gooden said. “The biggest number that’s going to matter this weekend is wins. It’s about who’s going to be the most successful.