Volleyball splits MAC weekend

By Mike Romor

Volleyball has what it takes to make it to a fourth-straight MAC Championship match, but it will be a challenge to get there.

NIU (9-7, 1-1 MAC) saw two contrasting outcomes in its conference-opening weekend against the top two teams in the MAC preseason poll.

Opening their weekend against Western Michigan (8-7, 1-1), the Huskies won a grueling opening set 32-30 before dropping each of the next two sets 25-18. But head coach Ray Gooden’s prediction that the match would be a long, tough battle held true, as NIU fought back to take the affair in five sets.

“At times we played some really good volleyball,” Gooden said. “It was a point-for-point battle and that’s what makes Western Michigan a challenging team to play. Those guys will take you all the way to that last point. Every set was such a battle.”

Leading the charge for NIU was junior outside hitter Mackenzie Roddy, who continued her excellent play from the Huskie Invitational. Roddy finished with a double-double, hitting a game-high 24 kills and posting 13 digs.

Freshmen Jenna Radtke and Mary Grace Kelly continued to show promise in the front row. The young duo combined for a .364 hitting percentage and 30 kills. They only combined for six attack errors on 64 swings.

WMU finished with a 91-80 digging advantage, but NIU libero Justine Schepler led all performers with 20 digs.

The NIU offense picked up in the fourth and fifth frames, hitting more than .300 in each of the must-win sets. Sophomore setter Alexis Gonzalez ran the offense well when it mattered most, recording 53 assists on the night. She also tallied 16 digs, tying a career-high.

After beating possibly its greatest threat in the West, NIU failed to deliver the same results to Bowling Green (5-8, 2-0), falling in straight sets, 25-20, 25-21, 25-19.

The game was a rematch of last year’s MAC title match, which Bowling Green won in five sets. Players from both sides were looking forward to the only contest between the two teams during the regular season, as last year’s title match was fairly balanced. This time around, Bowling Green dominated in most facets.

The one positive from NIU was its blocking advantage. From the get-go, NIU made its presence up front, but the Falcons seemed to find ways to capitalize on any gaps they could find when NIU blockers failed to close space quick enough.

The Huskies finished with a 10-8 blocking advantage, but there was not much else that seemed to go in their favor.

Bowling Green swung .200 while holding NIU to a .123 percentage. The Falcons’ back row did an incredible job of keeping points alive and finished with 16 more digs than the Huskies.

“[Bowling Green] just wanted it more than we did,” Gooden said. “I thought we had some pretty strong rallies tonight and we won a few of them. But on the whole, those guys had the advantage as far as winning most of those long rallies.”

The only Huskie to reach double-digit kills was Kelly, who finished with a game-high 12 kills and at times was the only player NIU could rely on to find a lane. Schepler finished with a team-high 11 digs.