Volleyball up for MAC double

By Mike Romor

In the middle of a tight race in the MAC West, volleyball is set to host two cross-divisional opponents over the weekend.

NIU (12-10, 4-4) will start its weekend 7 p.m. Friday against Ohio. The Bobcats (16-4, 6-2) have been one of the best teams in the MAC the past few seasons. The perennial MAC East favorites were the top seed in last season’s MAC Tournament. NIU ended up taking them down in a come-from-behind five-setter.

Every NIU-Ohio matchup garners attention from around the MAC, as the teams have been two of the best in the conference in recent memory. This year, Ohio has been nearly unstoppable offensively, hitting .267. The Bobcats lead all teams in conference play with a .259 mark.

“They are multidimensional and play well from the left side, right side and also the back row,” said head coach Ray Gooden. “They are as legit of a team as we are going to see. I think it’s going to be a real good challenge for us.”

Ohio is the best team in the conference defensively, holding MAC foes to a .137 hitting percentage.

The Bobcats’ depth shows in every statistical category, including blocks and serving, in which they also rank first in the MAC.

“Ohio has always been a really solid program,” Gooden said. “They do a nice job of recruiting athletes that fit their style, and they run their system their way and do a good job of it.”

After a test against one of the conference’s best, NIU will gear its effort toward stopping a much-improved Kent State squad 7 p.m. Saturday.

Kent State (10-11, 4-4) has had a solid season and beat Ohio earlier in the year. Kent State has already surpassed its conference win total from last season, which was three.

The Golden Flashes have dropped their last two MAC matches, though, and are 2-5 on the road this season. NIU is 9-4 at home, but the Huskies have lost to the exact same MAC teams as the Flashes. NIU needs to take advantage of Kent State’s struggling defensive play to take the match. Kent State sits at 11th in the conference in opponent hitting percentage at .231.

“They’re vastly improved and well-coached,” Gooden said. “They’re another typical [MAC] East team where they’re going to be pretty big and pretty physical.”