Huskies know Hurricane season isn’t over

By Mike Romor

At the end of last season, NIU volleyball had its heart broken.

After their tremendous run through the regular season, the Huskies watched their chance at an NCAA Tournament bid slip away as they lost in the MAC Championship match to Ohio before falling to Marquette to wrap up the season.

After their devastating losses, the Huskies watched ESPNU’s selection show. Selection after selection was made, but NIU was never chosen.

One year later, the Huskies sat in the same position. This time their name was called. The team expected a berth this season, but finally seeing NIU on the bracket was a feeling the players and coach Ray Gooden had long awaited.

The bid is the first for NIU since 2001 and the first at-large bid since 1998. It is only the sixth time in school history the team has made it to the 64-team tournament.

“[It felt] amazing,” said NIU libero Amber Walker. “We weren’t really surprised to get in the tournament, but it was still a good feeling to see it on television. We watched [the selection show] last year and didn’t see our name come up, so this year, we needed that.”

The Huskies (28-6, 14-2 MAC) are set to face no. 25 Miami (Florida) (25-4, 16-4 ACC) Friday in their opening match.

The ACC is an unfamiliar conference for NIU. The last ACC opponent the Huskies played was Georgia Tech in 2009. Having not seen much footage of the Hurricanes yet, the Huskies have a long week of practice and film ahead of them.

Miami is coming off of its best conference season since it joined the ACC in 2004. Led by ACC Player of the Year Lane Carico, who holds the school’s all-time record in both kills and points, the Hurricanes finished their season strong, defeating no. 21 Florida State. Carico registered a season-high 29 kills while Miami won its 10th match of its last 11.

This is the third straight year that Miami has qualified for the NCAA Tournament and the second year in a row that the Hurricanes will start in the Midwest Regional.

“They have a very good team,” Gooden said. “They have a very good player in Carico. They’re a very good defensive team and one of the top teams in the ACC so we know it’s going to be a really good battle. They will be physical, play really good defense and handle the ball very well. They’re in line with a lot of the teams we played against this year.”

Whoever comes out on top will play the winner of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (25-4, 16-0 Horizon) and Iowa State (22-5, 13-3 Big 12) Saturday. In the regular season, the Huskies faced both teams, winning in straight sets against Milwaukee but losing in four sets to the Cyclones. In the meantime, The Huskies are staying focused on the task at hand to make sure they will get the chance to play their familiar foes.

“We know that [the Hurricanes] have a little slower style than we do,” said NIU defensive specialist Justine Schepler. “We have a fast tempo, so we think that works to our advantage. If we serve and pass and stay composed we can beat them. Right now we’re just taking it one match at a time.”