Volleyball freshmen learn as they go

By Mike Romor

DeKalb | Over the years, volleyball has given freshmen a fair chance in the lineup.

This year, head coach Ray Gooden decided to plug three of his freshmen into the starting lineup. The results have been everything he hoped for.

Freshmen Paige Dacanay, Mary Grace Kelly and Jenna Radtke have started every match this year, and between the three, have played 89 out of 90 possible sets while bringing the team some consistency as servers.

Through seven matches, Radtke, a middle blocker, leads the Huskies in total blocks, with 26, and is second among NIU starters with a .311 hitting percentage. Radtke attributes some of that success to her senior teammate and fellow middle blocker, Sarah Angelos.

“She helped me a lot,” Radtke said. “I always look up to her because she’s such a good player and she helps me with blocking and hitting and telling me where to go. I feel like she’s really been a role model for me.”

Kelly has made an impact at the net. As an outside hitter, Kelly is a high-volume swinger who can hold her own in the backcourt. She still is working to improve on her digging, but she has already made some crucial defensive plays from the back and at the net.

Kelly’s defense is trumped by her offense, though. While she is only hitting .170 early on in her career, she looks like she will be a featured focal point for NIU by the time she is an upperclassman. Kelly is third on the team in kills, averaging 2.31 per set.

She has also been a great addition as a server, which is an aspect NIU is working hard to improve on.

Gooden worked exclusively with Kelly on tweaking her serve prior to the start of the season and it has been effective. While the team is serving .868, Kelly is serving .942 with five aces to only four errors.

“She’s taken to the teaching well,” Gooden said. “She’s done a good job of coming up with a serve that she feels good about and our team feels good about.”

Dacanay, the smallest Huskie on the team at 5-foot-3, has been a dependable defensive specialist and has had no problem stepping into the role former Huskie Sue Hayes left after her departure.

Dacanay played well against a strong USC lineup which featured as hard of hitters as NIU will ever have to play. She finished the match with nine digs and an ace.

“I knew it would be really hard the first couple weeks because I’m learning new techniques and basically how to play volleyball,” Dacanay said. “I would understand if I didn’t start because I’m new and I need to learn, but I think I caught on pretty well and I connect with the team pretty well.”

As a young defensive specialist, Dacanay will continue to improve with every match. But her personality has already made her one of the team’s favorites on and off the court.

“Paige gives each and every one of us a lot of confidence,” Kelly said. “If someone makes an error, Paige is always the first one to verbally boost our confidence. Even if the energy drops and we’re down a few points, she’s the sparkplug that gets everyone back to gaining energy.”