Top teams set out for DeKalb


From the beginning of the season, the NIU volleyball team had only one ultimate goal: get to the NCAA tournament and win.

The first part of their goal has been completed. The second part begins tonight at 4 p.m. at the Chick Evans Fieldhouse when arch-rival Illinois State comes back to DeKalb to avenge a pair of losses they have suffered to the Huskies over the last two seasons.

ISU would like nothing better than to show up at Chick Evans Fieldhouse and ruin the Huskies plans of playing Penn State in the second round.

Consider this, NIU is making only their first appearance in the Big Show. The only post-season experience the Huskies have ever participated in is the National Invitational Volleyball Championships.

ISU, on the other hand, is making their eighth appearance in the tourney (second consecutive). Last year they won their first match against Houston in three straight games, the first time an ISU team had made it past the first round, and made it all the way to the Sweet Sixteen round.

As much as it looks like the cards are stacked against the Huskies, the odds are greater against ISU.

When the Redbirds pulled off their first round win last year, the team had finished first in the Missouri Valley Conference and had a explosive lineup. They ended the season with a 30-4 record after Long Beach State knocked them off in three straight games in the Regional Semifinals.

The Huskies, however, went 33-6 last year, with a perfect conference record of 16-0, and had to settle for the NIVC. This was after beating ISU in Normal during the regular season.

This year, the Redbirds are already 21-10 while finishing a disappointing third (14-2) in conference. They have dropped three of their last six matches since they got creamed by Nikki Kozak and the rest of the Huskies in the teams last meeting on Nov. 2.

How they received an NCAA bid is uncertain. The automatic entry went to Southwest Missouri State by virtue of winning the MVC tournament.

“One of the major achievements this program has produced is getting to the NCAA tournament,” head coach Pete Waite said. “We were nearly there last year, but at the last second the NCAA made a decision to take some other teams.

“It’s been a goal, but this year it was made a little bit easier with our conference receiving an automatic bid. We have really wanted it for a long time,” Waite said.

Nevertheless, the Redbirds will officially represent themselves trying to forget about the last two times these teams have met.

For the season, ISU has been led by senior outside hitter Kim Nelson, one of only eight players to register 500 or more kills in MVC history. She finished the year with 507.

Defensively, the Huskies will try to hit away from the other senior outside hitter Carla McQueen and junior setter Juli Schmidt, who lead the team with 390 and 374 digs respectively.

Another factor going into this game is this will undoubtedly be the last home game of the year.

For five outstanding seniors, it will be the last home game of their careers. Kozak, Amy Foulke, Becky Ramsey, Kori Schauer and Amy Vander Meer will all be playing on the Fieldhouse court for the last time, and for only three dollars, NIU students will get to see them for the last time.

That is unless you make the trip to Penn State on December 4th at 7:30 p.m. to root the Huskies on after they send the Redbirds packing one more time.