Volleyball beats two MAC foes

By Mike Romor

 After a month away from Victor E. Court, NIU volleyball returned over the weekend to square off against two MAC conference opponents.

NIU (12-8, 3-1 MAC) embraced the home crowd, winning both its matches over the weekend.

The Huskies opened up the home stand with a strong win over Ball State (9-8, 2-2 MAC).

“It was nice to be back at home,” said NIU coach Ray Gooden. “It’s cool for our group to play with all the energy. We really fed off the home crowd and folks were excited to see us. We were excited to see them and we were fortunate enough to play good volleyball.”

The four-set victory over the perennial MAC contender was a complete team effort.

With Amber Walker out with a day-to-day upper body injury, Sycamore native Justine Schepler filled in, recording a match-high 14 digs.

“We played Justine in the libero spot and she did a wonderful job, which we knew she could,” Gooden said. “She stepped up her game as well as the rest of our team. She had a ‘next man up’ kind of attitude and I thought it was really positive.”

Senior Meghan Romo proved to be the difference maker offensively for NIU. The outside hitter led the squad with 19 kills and a .378 hitting percentage.

As a team, NIU outhit the Cardinals .280 to .240.

“It’s good for [Romo] to step up as a senior and take that challenge of being a senior and team leader,” Gooden said. “Little by little she’s starting to improve upon things, whether it be her being more vocal or stepping up her game. It’s nice to see.”

The Huskies picked up right where they left off Saturday night against Central Michigan.

En route to a three-set sweep of the Chippewas (7-9, 1-3 MAC), the Huskies played with the same well-balanced attack as they had in their previous match.

With Romo once again pacing the team, posting 14 kills on 29 swings, NIU found an early rhythm that never relinquished, out hitting CMU .301 to .129.

The Huskies’s defense showed its strength with the absence of its libero for the second straight night. While no Huskie recorded double-digit digs, four Huskies dug five or more balls, led by freshman setter Alexis Gonzalez’s nine.

Coming in as a freshman, Gonzalez has shown development throughout the season.

“The word I would use to describe her is ‘stable,’” Gooden said. “I think she’s doing a very good job operating our offense and trying to understand everything. Other parts of her game are continuing to build and grow and we’re happy that she is a Huskie.”