Volleyball set to begin MAC tournament Saturday

By Mike Romor

The time has come for NIU volleyball to show up when it matters most.

The two seasons prior to this year, NIU (19-13, 10-6 MAC) made it to the MAC Championship game with ease, only to fail in its quest to be the best of the MAC.

This year, as a fourth seed, NIU enters as an underdog to teams like Western Michigan and Ohio. In order to reach the semifinals to face such a foe, the Huskies must get past fifth-seeded Akron (16-12, 9-7).

Saturday’s 10 a.m. matchup with Akron opens up the MAC Tournament.

“For us to win, we really need to be able to control our first contact and play consistently,” said coach Ray Gooden.

NIU and Akron met in DeKalb on homecoming weekend earlier this season, when the Huskies pulled off a thrilling five-set victory.

In that match, NIU fell behind 2-1 before taking complete command at the net. Both teams struggled to find rhythm offensively while posting double-digit blocks.

“Akron’s very physical,” Gooden said. “They are very athletic and it’s going to be a really big battle. They’re a lot like us with the way they play.”

The one main difference between this NIU team and Akron is the momentum heading into the weekend.

The Huskies suffered a three-game skid two weeks ago but have been going in the right direction ever since. They have won four of their past five, including two big road wins over Toledo and Ball State to help them get closer to the fourth seed.

Akron’s last success came after the five-set Huskie win a month ago. Akron reeled off five straight conference victories after its loss, dropping no more than one set in any of them.

Akron, however, has backtracked as of late, losing two of its past three matches to divisional rivals.

“I hope that we’re able to play good volleyball at the right time,” Gooden said. “We’re going to try and continue to do that.”