Volleyball plays for second seed in final homestand

By Mike Romor

The final weekend of the regular season could determine everything for volleyball, as NIU prepares to avenge previous losses to the top two teams in the MAC West at home.

NIU (17-11, 9-5 MAC) starts the action 6 p.m. Friday against Ball State (22-7, 10-4). Ball State was cruising to a potential top seed in the conference tournament before unraveling last weekend. The Cardinals come into DeKalb looking to avenge consecutive losses, including a defeat dealt by the lowly Akron Zips, who sit at 2-12 in the MAC.

“They really took it to us [in our first matchup] and we got our butts kicked,” said head coach Ray Gooden. “We were not in a good place — all the credit to them — and we know what they’re capable of doing. We are going to need to play a more aggressive, more confident style of volleyball to be successful against those guys.”

Toledo comes to town Saturday in what could end up being the MAC match of the year if the Rockets lose their match on

Friday at Western Michigan and NIU defeats Ball State.

Toledo (18-10, 11-3) has reeled off seven straight wins, while NIU is on a five-match run of its own. Toledo has not lost since a mid-October road loss to MAC-leading Ohio.

“They have a lot of experience and a lot of kids who have been doing it for four years,” Gooden said. “They’ve put it all together. They are well-coached, and the best thing about them this year is that they handle situations really well.”

Gooden constantly emphasizes that every match throughout a season holds the same amount of importance. This season proved him right, as it took a late-season surge from the Huskies to put them in position to potentially leapfrog their weekend opponents for a two-seed in the MAC Tournament.

While Toledo and Ball State already have to worry about coming to DeKalb, where NIU is 12-5 this season, they also have to travel to Western Michigan, which is fourth in the MAC West with a 9-5 conference record.

NIU needs to win both of its matches and Toledo needs to lose both to give NIU a chance at making the leap to second in MAC Tournament seeding. Since Bowling Green is also 9-5 in MAC play and beat NIU earlier this season, NIU needs Bowling Green to lose at least one of its two matches this weekend.

If all that occurs, NIU needs another sequence of events to play out between Ball State and Western Michigan.

If Western Michigan beats both Toledo and Ball State, there would be a three-way tie atop the MAC West with NIU, Toledo and Western Michigan.

Since NIU’s combined record against Toledo and Western Michigan would be 3-1, it would take the second overall seed for the tournament, since Toledo would be 2-2 and Western Michigan would be 1-3 among the tied teams.

If Western Michigan beats Toledo but falls to Ball State, NIU would be in the three-way tie with Toledo and Ball State. Since Toledo would then be 3-1 against NIU and Ball State, NIU would be 2-2 and Ball State would be 1-3 since it dropped both of its regular season matches to Toledo. Therefore, NIU would finish with the third overall seed for the tournament.