Volleyball can’t hold it together out west

By Mike Romor

The wild west proved to be much more than volleyball could handle.

After starting the season with moderate success at home, NIU (5-5) lost two of three matches over the weekend at the New Mexico State Tournament.

NIU opened the weekend Friday with two matches and little resting time in between. In the Huskies’ first match, against Arkansas-Little Rock (5-4), NIU struggled to find any rhythm and was swept in three sets. UALR won all three of its matches at the tournament.

The Huskies could not find a way to hit around UALR’s resistance at the net. The Trojans ended the affair with 11 blocks to NIU’s one.

UALR had 40 kills with eight attack errors while NIU produced 38 kills, but 27 attack errors. The lone Huskie to hit more than .200 was freshman Jenna Radtke, who hit a solid .333 with nine kills.

In its second match of the day, NIU still struggled to find much consistency but managed to squeak out a five-set comeback victory over Southern Utah (1-8).

The Huskies hit .093 in the match, the same percentage they hit in their first game of the day, but this time they held their opponent to a .087 rate of success.

Southern Utah, only in its sixth season as a program, played competitively all weekend, but lost two five-setters en route to being swept at the tournament.

Senior Sarah Angelos led the Huskies offensively, notching a match-high 16 kills. Mackenzie Roddy also played well, posting a double-double with 11 kills and 16 digs.

The Huskies also relied on strong defensive play from libero Justine Schepler, who dug a team-high 25 balls. Freshman Paige Dacanay recorded 22 digs. NIU finished with 93 digs as a team.

“We fought really hard,” Schepler said. “We played well defensively all weekend, but against Southern Utah we also fought hard to come back and rally when things weren’t going our way.”

After receiving a night’s rest, NIU faced New Mexico State to end the tournament in a rematch from last season.

New Mexico State (3-6) repeated its success over NIU, taking the contest in four sets to match its results from last year.

“All weekend we really struggled to find any consistency,” said head coach Ray Gooden. “New Mexico State is a very good team and if you can’t get anything going, they will put you away, and that’s what happened.”

After winning the first set, NIU had chances in each of the remaining three sets. In each set, NIU held strong until about halfway through, at which point the Huskies began to unravel.

“It felt like we went into ‘cruise control’ out there,” Schepler said. “We wanted to go out and be relaxed and have fun on the court, but we were probably too relaxed and we would fall behind in the middle of the sets and it would be too hard to come back.”

One positive for NIU was that it finally hit more than .100, but the story repeated itself from last season’s encounter with the Aggies, when they outblocked the Huskies 19-3 last season. This time, they outblocked NIU 10-4.