No matter the team, Gooden stays the same for volleyball


Ray Gooden consoles freshman Justine Schepler (middle) after falling to Ohio in the MAC Tournament Championship.

By Mike Romor

Over the past three seasons, volleyball has confirmed itself to be a powerhouse in the MAC under the coaching of Ray Gooden.

Gooden has been the equivalent of a well-aged scotch: His product undeniably improves with each passing year.

Last season, his product, a Huskie unit fresh off back-to-back MAC championship match berths, entered the season without All-American Lauren Wicinski, who transferred to Michigan State. Losing the outside hitter was a crushing blow, or at least it seemed that way on paper.

The team also lost a pair of starting seniors at the end of the 2011 season: honorable mention All-American setter Kristin Hoffman along with Allison McGlaughlin, one of NIU’s most prolific outside hitters.

How did the Huskies respond to these devastating blows? They marched right back to the MAC Championship match thanks to a solid all-around unit with a team-first demeanor.

Sometimes it was strong play from defensive specialists, while other times it was dominance from the front line, but in every Huskies win, it was apparent they had the better coach on their side of the net. Gooden withstood a major haymaker to the program and responded with greater force.

Gooden ended last season with a MAC Championship loss, but he did win his second-straight, and third overall, MAC Coach of the Year award.

Based on what he was able to do last season with a flurry of questions about his team’s prospects, there is no reason to doubt Gooden can bring his team to another title match in a conference that has a considerably large talent pool.

Gooden has led NIU to three straight 20-win seasons regardless of the roster. A fourth would be a tremendous accomplishment based on the strength of NIU’s upcoming schedule.

In the first few weeks of the season, the Huskies will play against some very solid out-of-conference teams at home. The most notable matches will be against nationally ranked USC and Ohio State, which are fourth and 23rd, respectively, in the AVCA Coaches Poll.

Having two top 25 schools come to DeKalb for pre-conference play is quite the testament to the recognition NIU receives in the volleyball community. More so, it is a testament to the progress Gooden has made in his 12 seasons at NIU.

Not only is Gooden perhaps the best coach in the MAC, he is arguably the best volleyball coach NIU has ever had. There is a very good reason as to why he has three of the seven total MAC Coach of the Year awards NIU has received.

A well-aged scotch sits comfortably on the top shelf of any liquor cabinet. If there was a top shelf for volleyball coaches, Gooden would be up there with the best in the country.