Volleyball takes success in stride, focuses on teamwork

By Mike Romor

Having won 55 matches over the past two seasons, NIU volleyball experienced its fair share of success.

Now with three All-Americans gone, including setter and NCAA Woman of the Year finalist Kristin Hoffman, the Huskies have had to use a total team effort to achieve its goal of winning the MAC Championship.

NIU was 17-5 through 22 matches last season. This year, at 13-9, the Huskies are less dominant on paper, but in order to compensate for the absences of Hoffman and outside hitters, Allison McGlaughlin and Lauren Wicinski, NIU has improved as a complete unit.

“People figure out when you lose three All-Americans, people need to step up,” said coach Ray Gooden. “I think our group will tell you that the biggest thing we had to do was be a better ‘team’. The banners and rings mean one thing, but I don’t think the kids had the most positive experience on the whole.

“I think they’re really fighting hard right now and they’re fighting hard together. That’s indicative of a good team.”

Sophomore outside hitter Emily Paschke has taken her former teammates’ absences in stride and thinks the team is benefitting with its current structure.

“We don’t have a ‘captain’ but all the seniors are leaders in different ways,” Paschke said. “It really helps out and we all look to each other for advice instead of just looking at one person as the leader. Everyone steps up and helps each other.”

As a team, NIU is much stronger, even if the record does not show it. In years past, NIU has relied heavily on the individual output of its outside hitters. This season, the focus is on every aspect of the game.

One reason Gooden has been grateful is every player’s willingness to take on a heavier load.

“I think everybody has [taken on bigger roles],” Gooden said. “You might not see it because you might assume that someone like Amber [Walker] already knows what her role is but it’s much bigger now. Justine [Schepler], Sue [Hayes], Sarah [Angelos], Mary [Kurisch]; everyone has to do a lot more.

“It’s good because it’s not a one-man show or a one-horse race. There’s a lot of diversity in our team and you can see it in our offense and our defense.”

One of the clearest ways to see the teamwork in action is by watching the sidelines during a match.

This year’s sideline squad has helped the transition to bigger roles a little easier for everyone on the court. Between cheering and coaching, the players on the sideline have lessened the burden for the starters.

“We’ve got girls that are doing a really good job accepting their roles right now and executing to the best of their abilities,” Gooden said. “We all know they want to play and contribute. Sometimes just their voice and their vision help us out a lot; even more than just their playing.”