Freshman duo becoming key pieces for volleyball


Redshirt Mary Grace Kelly rady to spike the ball Sep. 4 against Western Illinois.

By Mike Romor

Two freshmen’s faces are starting to be remembered by opponents: Mary Grace Kelly and Jenna Radtke.

The duo do serious damage in the front row by providing solid offensive production while continuing to improve their overall game.

Kelly, an Ohio native, made her impact felt immediately for a Huskie team that lost its top outside hitter from last season. With NIU in need of a new source of production, Kelly stepped right in and hasn’t looked back.

Kelly did more than enough in the front row to earn the position, but her play in the back row and her steady serving have made her a staple of one of the best teams in the MAC.

“She came in off a surgery and has done a really good job bouncing into college ball,” said head coach Ray Gooden. “We like her range and what she can do and what her potential can be.”

Kelly has put together an impressive stat line through her first 18 collegiate matches, in which she started 16 and played in all but one set. She is third on the team in kills, with 2.40 per set, and bolsters a serving unit in need of upgrading after losing four of its main servers from last season.

She leads the team in kills in three matches this season and notched several double-doubles along the way, adding crucial depth to a lineup already dependent on fellow outside hitter Mackenzie Roddy.

“Learning from Mackenzie has helped me a lot,” Kelly said. “She’s a great role model to look up to, so just watching what she does a lot of the time leads me to success.”

It’s been a nearly identical situation for Radtke. She came in and immediately took over for last year’s All-MAC middle blocker Mary Kurisch. The transition from having one of the best blockers in the MAC to a freshman has been seamless.

“She’s physical and can do things so well at the net,” Gooden said. “She likes to block and she likes to run fast, and we’ve had success with those kind of players here, like Sarah Angelos.”

Not only has Radtke started every match and played every set for the Huskies, she has done so while becoming one of the best offensive blocker combinations in the MAC with Angelos.

Radtke leads the team in hitting percentage at .305, while paving the way with a team-best .97 blocks per set. She’s fourth on the team in kills per set with 2.07 and tied for second on the squad with 14 service aces.

One of Radtke’s most impressive qualities as a freshman has been her consistency. She’s hit more than .300 in 11 matches, with six of those at .400 or higher, including three contests with a .500 hitting percentage.

“[Alexis Gonzalez] and Kayla [Zeno] talk to me a lot and the back row players help me a lot, so I owe a lot of [the offensive success] to them,” Radtke said. “Just watching [Angelos] helps me a lot with what I need to do and where I need to be. She gets up a lot in transition and does it really well so watching her do that has definitely helped me improve with my hitting, as well.”

Her offensive output and all-around dependable net play helped NIU jump out to a solid start in the conference season. Through four MAC contests, NIU ranks fourth in blocks per set and fourth in opponent hitting percentage, largely due to the play of its middle blockers.

Opponents don’t have much to look forward to over the next few years, as Kelly and Radtke are shaping into the future anchors of NIU’s front row.