Volleyball can still break free in confrence standings

By Mike Romor

If there is one thing volleyball has learned the past few seasons, it’s that a slow start can be countered by a strong finish.

Head coach Ray Gooden’s squad suffered two losses over the weekend to divisional rivals, but if history repeats itself, NIU will recover.

As of now, the Huskies stand at 3-3 in the MAC and are tied for third in the MAC West. It’s a four-team chase for the West title right now, and NIU hopes to stay in the thick of it. Gooden is aware that every year, a handful of teams hover right around the same conference record, but one or two pull away near the end and have what it takes to win a championship.

Last year, NIU was one of those teams. The Huskies stayed near the middle of the MAC West deep into the season before winning four of their final five conference games before advancing all the way to the title match of the MAC Tournament.

In order to find the same success this year, NIU must overcome inexperience. Gooden has credited a young lineup as one of the main reasons for his team’s slow road start this season.

The Huskies are 9-4 at home, but just 1-4 in away matches. Losers of its last three road affairs, all against MAC teams, NIU has another weekend away from home coming up.

If the Huskies cannot take at least one of their two matches this weekend, it will take very strong play throughout the second half of their schedule to land one of the top four seeds in the tournament, assuming Ball State, Toledo and Western Michigan don’t all share the same success as NIU.

It will take at least .500 play on the road through the rest of the season and continued success at home for NIU to finish in the top two in the West, as it has in each of the past three seasons. Right now NIU is two games back of Ball State, which is 5-1 in the MAC and defeated NIU in straight sets last weekend.

The Huskies have proven they have the ability to climb back to the top. It all starts with this weekend, where they need to snap their road losing streak. Both matches are against MAC East teams, one of them Akron, which sits at 0-6 in the MAC.

If history repeats itself, NIU should bounce back. The Huskies will be at home for six of their final eight contests, including a two-week homestand to close out October. This will give the Huskies a chance to topple their three biggest threats as the home team.

If NIU can win both matches this weekend, it will have the upper hand over every other MAC West team. With Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan appearing to pose little threat this season, it works to NIU’s favor that those are the only two remaining divisional road matches after this weekend’s tilts.

Despite its troubling road play so far, NIU can once again pull away late in the year to make another run at a MAC Championship.