Panthers take care of volleyball

By Mike Romor

After winning the Missouri State Invitational over the weekend, NIU volleyball headed to Cedar Falls, Iowa, Tuesday for a showdown with one of the best teams in the Midwest.

The Huskies (7-6) fell short against Northern Iowa (7-4) in an up-and-down four setter, 25-19, 25-15, 11-25 and 25-18.

“We weren’t able to play as solid team volleyball as we have been playing over the past few matches,” said coach Ray Gooden.

The Panthers, who were ranked as high as 25th in the country in last week’s AVCA Coaches Poll, set the tone early. They came out on fire in their home opener, scoring six of the match’s first nine points.

Things did not get much better for the Huskies, who hit .089 with only 38 kills and 24 errors on the night.

Leading the way for NIU was senior outside hitter Meghan Romo, who picked up a double-double while recording a match-high 13 kills to go along with 10 digs.

Senior libero Amber Walker continued her strong defensive play, recording 22 digs which helped hold UNI to a .090 hitting percentage.

“There were a couple rallies where we played good defense and got some momentum back,” Walker said. “But overall, I think they came out stronger than us.”

The Panthers were paced by senior outside hitters Amy Braun and Megan Lehman.

Braun swung for a team-high 11 kills while chipping in with 15 digs.

NIU’s front line managed to keep the team’s leader to a lowly .068 hitting percentage.

However, Braun found enough ways to contribute while leading her team to victory.

Lehman was the team’s only other player to put up double-digit kills; she had 10.

The Huskies shined momentarily in the four-set loss. In its lone winning set, NIU hit .256 with just two attack errors.

“We were playing our style,” Gooden said. “We passed well, blocked well and scored points in transition. We were playing the way that we are capable of playing.”

That third set could have been a turning point for the Huskies, who then battled tough in the beginning of the fourth set with the Panthers.

The Panthers finally finished the job they started after a four-point run midway through the fourth set expanded their lead to 13-7.

The six-point margin was more than enough for one of the toughest teams on NIU’s schedule.

“We need to stay consistent,” Gooden said. “We’re capable of being much better. We’re on a really long stretch of playing on the road, so we have got to compete to stay in as much we can, both physically and mentally.”