NIU volleyball falls to Miami, Fla. in NCAA Tournament


By Mike Romor

NIU volleyball’s season came to an end Friday with a loss to Miami (Fla.) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Huskies (28-7, 14-2 MAC) lost in four up-and-down sets to the No. 25 Hurricanes (26-4, 16-4 ACC), 25-17, 21-25, 25-12 and 26-24.

“We did some really nice things to start off the match,” said NIU coach Ray Gooden. “Then we had a couple things that didn’t go our way, and we weren’t able to recover from it as well as we needed to. We were just kind of up then down throughout the entire match. When we were up, we were doing really well and executing. And when we were down, we were weren’t playing as well as we expect to.”

The win over NIU put Miami into the second round of the tournament for the only time during its current three-year streak of making the tournament. In the second round, however, No. 4 seeded Iowa State ended Miami’s tournament run, knocking out the Hurricanes in straight sets.

As a team, NIU was held to a .200 hitting percentage in defeat. The Hurricanes, led by Christine Williamson’s .630 hitting percentage and 18 kills, hit .338 and committed only 12 attack errors.

Miami also held sizable advantages over the Huskies in digs and blocks, notching 80 digs and 12 total blocks to NIU’s 66 digs and four blocks.

The Huskies were fueled by Lauren Wicinski’s 23 kills, while Amber Walker had a match-high 24 digs.

Senior Allison McGlaughlin finished her Huskie career with seven kills and 11 digs, while Kristin Hoffman had 47 assists and 13 digs in her final match for NIU.

“It’s still not quite reality,” Hoffman said. “I think [Friday] was hard afterwards realizing I’m done and will never play for NIU volleyball again. From that perspective, I’m going to miss it. I’m going to miss the girls and my friends on the team who I’ve become close with, and I’ll also miss being around Ray and the program as a whole.”

The Huskies came out strong in the second set and after evening the match up looked to have finally found its groove, hitting .310 throughout the set. After the intermission, the Huskies once again succumbed to Miami’s strong defense and hit .075 while netting only eight kills in the third set.

The final set of the match went back-and-forth, but NIU found itself playing catch-up in the crucial final points. With their backs to the walls, the Huskies found a way to keep within reach with kills from Wicinski and Mary Kurisch. With the score 25-24, Lane Carico showed why she was named ACC Player of the Year and came up with her 15th kill to end the match.

“We worked really hard and I think we left it on the floor,” Wicinski said. “We just never got the break we were looking for to go on a run. We just never got a break.”

Despite falling in the first round of the tournament, the Huskies made a lot of significant accomplishments for the program during their season.

The Huskies had five players named All-MAC, a school record, while Wicinski was named MAC Player of the Year for the second straight season. Wicinski is the only player in league history to receive the award in her first two seasons, and is also the youngest in league history to reach 1,000 career kills.

Hoffman was named MAC Setter of the Year, which is a first for NIU. Gooden also coached his team to its best record in his tenure, 28-7, and saw his team go an outstanding 12-1 on the road this season.

“[This season] has been amazing,” Gooden said. “I’m so fortunate to be a part of this group. Without their hard work and sacrifice all the way from last year through now, along with Coley and Dan [Pawlikowski], it’s been great.”