Volleyball comes up big at home

By Mike Romor

Opening Thursday night against Western Michigan, the Huskies knew they had to win to gain ground in the race to the MAC Tournament.

NIU (15-11, 7-5 MAC) did just that by beating WMU (14-11, 7-5) at its own game. The win was NIU’s second of the year over WMU, giving NIU the advantage if it comes down to a tiebreaker for a seed in the conference tournament.

“There are some things that we did tonight that I was really happy about,” said head coach Ray Gooden. “We started off a little slow and gave them a lot of points. We were maybe too hyped up or too juiced … then we started to settle down.”

The Huskies looked unstoppable offensively, hitting .315. NIU outhit one of the MAC’s best offenses and finished with 12 more kills. Junior Mackenzie Roddy led the way with a match-high 18 kills with a .283 hitting percentage.

Senior Sarah Angelos continued her assault on the MAC by finishing with 16 kills and a .395 hitting percentage.

Freshmen Mary Grace Kelly and Jenna Radtke also reached double digits with 12 and 11 kills, respectively.

While the offense made things look easy, it could not have happened without strong back row play from a pair of seniors.

Libero Justine Schepler posted 22 digs and Kayla Zeno tallied 10 digs. Their passing was on point, as well, helping Alexis Gonzalez execute the offense and total 54 assists.

Gonzalez also racked up four kills, eight digs and three aces.

“I felt on fire,” Gonzalez said. “I was feeling it. When I go back there [to serve], I have no fear and I want to hit the ball so hard. I feel like as the season’s gone on, I’ve gotten more consistent and aggressive.”

NIU hoped to carry its momentum into Saturday night’s matchup against Miami (Ohio). The Huskies did not play as well, but still came away with another four-set

conference victory.

Miami (10-14, 2-10) never really had control of the match and could not hold on to leads when it had them. The Huskies pulled away late in the third and fourth frame after letting the Redhawks hang around for most of the action.

Kelly led all Huskies with 16 kills in the match, including five in the decisive fourth set. She also bolstered the back with 10 digs. Her performance was one of her best all-around outputs of the season. Roddy finished with 15 kills and 13 digs.

The back row was great for the Huskies, which made up for inconsistent blocking. Schepler stepped up once again, leading the team with 23 digs.

“I thought [the] back row stepped up a lot,” Kelly said. “In the beginning of the game their outsides were really tough at hitting seams, and Justine did a great job talking to the blockers.”

NIU also received solid efforts from role players Tori Halbur, T’ara Austin and Emily Paschke. Austin and Halbur both contributed with dependable serving, and Paschke found her groove on offense, hitting .538 with seven kills and no attack errors.