Huskies become MAC West, regular season champions

By Mike Romor

MAC West and regular season champions: Those are the titles that now belong to NIU volleyball.

With the regular season MAC title on the line, the Huskies tamed Western Michigan in four sets 17-25, 26-24, 25-23, and 25-23.

The Huskies (24-5, 13-2 MAC), who are winners of 12 matches in a row, were led by Lauren Wicinski’s 23 kills and 11 digs. Sarah Angelos added 11 kills with a team-high .400 hitting percentage. Defensively, liberos Amber Walker and Justine Schepler posted 25 and 19 digs, respectively.

Five different Huskies had double-digit digs, including Allison McGlaughlin’s 12 and Kristin Hoffman’s 10. Hoffman also recorded 50 assists. McGlaughlin posted a double-double, also adding 14 kills.

“Offensively, I thought Sarah [Angelos] did a real nice job out there tonight,” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. “I thought defensively, Justine made some really good plays and Amber did a real nice job. It can’t just be one person for us to be successful right now, so our entire team had flashes of greatness tonight.”

The Huskies got out to an inconsistent start in the first set and could not recover. NIU was held to an abysmal .081 hitting percentage while Western Michigan (23-6, 12-3 MAC) posted a .265 mark.

Leading the Huskies offensively in the first set were Wicinski and Angelos, who were the Huskies’ only two to post positive hitting percentages. Entering the second set, NIU fell behind early and eventually trailed 13-17 but continued to race after the Broncos. The Huskies went on a rally to even the set up at 18-18 before jumping ahead.

After the Huskies took a 23-20 lead, the Broncos rallied to tie the score at 24-24.NIU quickly regained control of the set after back-to-back attack errors from WMU to end the set at 26-24, evening up the match at 1-1.

A key factor in NIU’s success in the second set was limiting WMU to a .102 hitting percentage, even if it was only able to post a .140 mark of its own.

Western Michigan came out on fire in the third set, netting four kills in four swings to take an early lead of 9-2, while the Huskies committed three errors in the first 11 points.

NIU tried recovering, quickly narrowing the deficit to three after kills by Wicinski and freshman Mackenzie Roddy to make the score 7-10.

NIU hung in for the remainder of the set, and once again, the Broncos opened the flood gates, this time committing three consecutive attack errors, and it would bring NIU right back into the set at 22-22. The Huskies did not look back as they grabbed the set 25-23.

“I think we have a lot of experience playing in these close sets,” Gooden said. “If we could continue to do the things that we’ve been doing, to make plays, we have a chance of being successful. It was good for us to have that experience in those situations so that we weren’t surprised by it.”

With NIU in control entering the fourth set, the Broncos came out flat and seemed to have lost their poise.

NIU took an early three-point lead and took advantage of finally claiming an early cushion. Behind a balanced defensive and offensive attack, the Huskies did not fall behind all the way through the end of the match despite Western Michigan’s late surge to tie the score at 20-20.

After going back and forth in the final points, NIU finally grabbed the victory after Wicinski netted three kills in a row to end the match.

“It was a good win for us,” Walker said. “We were having a dance party in the locker room afterward. It was just great.”