Volleyball falls in MAC semifinals

By Mike Romor

After a promising come-from-behind victory in the opening round, volleyball had its MAC Championship hopes dashed in the semifinals.

NIU (19-13, 10-6 MAC) dropped its semifinal match to top-seeded Ohio (27-4, 14-2) in straight sets, 25-22, 25-22, 25-23. Ohio later won the Championship without dropping a set in the entire tournament.

Despite falling short of their goal of winning the MAC title, the Huskies earned praise from head coach Ray Gooden.

“We played our asses off in that semi,” Gooden said. “We were playing the hottest team, but I think we did some really good things…. I’m really proud of what we’ve done.”

The Huskies struggled from the start, with Ohio outhitting them .282-.152 in the first set. NIU would eventually stifle the Bobcats up front and limit them to a .182 hitting percentage, but the tone of the match was already established.

NIU’s eight blocks, led by freshman Jenna Radtke’s two solo blocks, were not enough to slow the balanced Ohio attack. Both Karin Bull and Katie Horton posted 10 kills for the Bobcats.

Despite being downed in straight sets and not controlling the tempo, the Huskies kept themselves in every set against the Bobcats.

“We knew they were a good team and they would get their plays and their big swings,” said junior outside hitter Mackenzie Roddy. “What we needed to do was run our offense and try to beat them with speed. I thought we did a great job defensively, staying in rallies, and that kept us in the match.”

NIU received 25 of its 61 digs from senior libero Justine Schepler and 13 digs from senior defensive specialist Kayla Zeno.

Roddy led the Huskie attack with 12 kills, but no Huskie with more than five swings hit better than .250.

Senior middle blocker Sarah Angelos was the most efficient Huskie, ending the match with nine kills on 20 swings.

NIU had not lost in straight sets in the MAC Tournament since the 2010 title match against Ohio.

“Those three sets don’t really give that match justice,” Angelos said. “It was a fun match for both teams. It was hard-fought for each of us. I think we gave them a pretty big fight. Yes, I think it’s frustrating to have it shortened to three sets, but I’m proud of our team, and we fought hard.”

NIU reached the semifinals after an emotional win in the opening round over defending MAC Champion Bowling Green (14-15, 10-6).

After dropping a lopsided first set, 25-15, the Huskies bounced back to take three straight sets against the team that beat them in the championship match a season ago.

“The first set we played really tight, which is normal at these tournaments,” Gooden said. “People get anxious and eventually settle down. In the first set, we were off with everything. Afterward, we were firing on all cylinders.”

NIU took control late in the second set and dialed it up more in the third set, leading 10-1 early on and eventually 20-5. NIU took the set 25-14 and wrapped up the match with a 25-19 fourth set.

Roddy and Angelos played strong volleyball, but it all started with solid back row performances. Three Huskies reached double-digit dig

totals, with Schepler leading the pack with 16.

Sophomore setter Alexis Gonzalez notched 10 digs of her own to go with 45 assists.

Roddy tallied 18 kills and Angelos finished with 16 kills and a .424 hitting percentage.