NIU volleyball falls to Ball State, defeats Toledo

By Mike Romor

NIU volleyball split its first two MAC road matches this weekend, losing in five sets to defending MAC champion Ball State before winning in Toledo for the first time since 2008.

The Huskies (13-5, 2-2 MAC) took the Cardinals (15-2, 4-0) the distance in a see-sawing thriller Friday, but ultimately fell short 21-25, 25-19, 25-11, 23-25, 9-15.

NIU outside hitter Lauren Wicinski started her phenomenal weekend off against the Cardinals, netting 25 kills with a .345 hitting percentage. Wicinski also recorded 19 digs and three aces in the contest.

The Huskies looked to regain control of the match in the fourth set, after outhitting Ball State .571 to .071. The deciding match went to the home team, as Ball State extended its home winning streak to 19 matches.

“It’s a part of learning where we have to continue to fight until we’re finished,” said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. “We fought hard and had some great runs, just couldn’t do it for long enough, and we needed to give it a little more life.”

Friday marked the first match of the season that NIU had a higher hitting percentage than its opponent but lost, outhitting Ball State .258 to .218 in the match.

Senior Kristin Hoffman recorded 49 assists while running the Huskies’ offense effectively for most of the night.

The Huskies’ luck changed Saturday, as they defeated Toledo (6-10, 1-3) in four sets, 25-15, 25-19, 20-25, 25-21.

Wicinski had a career night, tallying a career-high 39 kills while hitting .484 with 10 digs and three aces. So far, Wicinski hasn’t fallen into a sophomore slump, as she leads the NCAA in kills per set. Wicinski is 14 kills shy of reaching 1,000 career kills as a sophomore.

“It felt really good because we were down after losing to Ball State,” Wicinski said. “We really needed the win because we had two losses in a row, so it felt good to help us get back on the winning track in the MAC.”

The Huskies showed why they have the best-ranked offense in the NCAA, outhitting Toledo .340 to .262 while recording 69 kills to Toledo’s 46.

Three different Huskies hit in the .400’s, with Sarah Angelos netting 10 kills and Mary Kurisch recording nine of her own.

Hoffman recorded a season-high 58 assists against the Rockets. Hoffman and Wicinski both lead the NCAA in their respective categories.

“Our passing was great in both matches,” Wicinski said. “For the most part in both games our offense worked together well. Kristin was setting great balls and everyone on the team worked together.”