Volleyball to face two improved MAC sides

By Mike Romor

Volleyball hopes to snap its three-match road losing streak this weekend against two MAC East foes.

Heading to Buffalo for a 6 p.m. Friday showcase, NIU (11-9, 3-3 MAC) looks to pick up its 10th straight win over the Bulls (15-4, 3-3). NIU has won 11 straight sets against Buffalo, since 2010, and last lost to the program in 2003.

This year, the Bulls have won more matches than they did all last season, winning in straight sets in nine of their victories. They are 7-2 at home while NIU is 1-4 on the road. After starting the season 12-0 by beating up on smaller programs, Buffalo has cooled off, going just 3-4 since its strong start.

“They are the best I have ever seen them,” said head coach Ray Gooden. “Not just in their record, but in the way they are playing you can tell they are really confident.”

The most impressive statistic for Buffalo might be its 16-3 record in third sets this season. One of the main reasons for its success has been sophomore outside hitter Tahleia Bishop. She ranks fifth in the MAC with 3.48 kills per set and a .262 hitting percentage despite receiving a heavy workload.

NIU will need to execute its serve receive and setting, areas Gooden was disappointed with last weekend.

“[Serve receive and setting] go hand-in-hand,” Gooden said. “… If our passing’s not as strong or as consistent, it’s harder for our setters to locate the ball. That’s a point of emphasis this weekend.”

NIU will closes its weekend with a 4 p.m. Sunday matchup at Akron.

Akron (6-11, 0-6) has been in the MAC cellar this season and has been inconsistent over the years. Last season, Akron finished third in a weak MAC East with a 9-7 conference record, but two years ago finished last with a 1-15 mark.

The Zips rank last in the MAC in hitting percentage, kills, blocks and assists this year. They lost five seniors from last season and one of their juniors did not return, which created the switch from four underclassmen last year to four upperclassmen this year.

“I think they’re a few plays away from being .500, if not better,” Gooden said. “Their record means nothing to us. We know where they are right now. They’re a win away from turning it all around, so we have to play really well and respect them.”

Each of the last two meetings between NIU and Akron went to five sets, with NIU ultimately winning. The Huskies haven’t lost to Akron since 2004.