Huskies going to the big dance


With two victories this weekend, the Huskie volleyball squad added to their list of accomplishments, including the league championship, by not only winning the Mid-Continent Championship but also earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Championship Tournament.

In doing so they earned the right to host the first round of action against Illinois State University which is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 1.

“It means a lot,” head coach Pete Waite said of being selected a host for the tournament. “Obviously we’ve got the homecourt advantage. You get to sleep in your own beds, eat the same foods and go on regular schedules and our team loves playing in front of a huge crowd.”

As the first NIU volleyball team to ever be selected for NCAA post season play, the entire team was excited to be a part of NIU history.

“We’re real excited,” Nikki Kozak said. “It should be a good tch, it always is against them. It’s a great rivalry and hopefully we’ll have a great turnout like we did last time.”

Although NIU’s final conference, the Raiders of Wright State will only get to see as much of the NCAA Tournament as they can from their stadium seats, they accomplished Saturday what no other Mid-Continent Conference team had done in over a year when they took game two of the Mid-Con Championship match.

In a match that took nearly two hours, the Huskies muscled out games three and four in honorable fashion earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament by scores of 15-10, 5-15, 15-6, 15-4.

While improving their overall record to 28-5, NIU filed papers with the NCAA Selection Committee offering to serve as both a first and second round host.

NIU came out of the gates quickly in game one and by the time they built a commanding 9-3 lead, Nikki Kozak was sitting in the driver’s seat with three aces and a couple of kills. WSU then battled back strongly pushing the game to 14-10.

After six side-outs, Kori Schauer stepped up and slammed the ball down on the WSU side to give NIU possession and put herself at the service line. After the return of Schauer’s serve Danielle Gerenz shot down the final ball to preserve an NIU victory.

Game two began much in the same fashion as game one ended with six side-outs occurring before the Raiders put the game’s first points on the board.

Wright State built an 8-2 lead, one of the largest NIU has ever seen themselves face this year, before the Huskies shortened the deficit to 8-5. Unfortunately for the Huskies, the Raiders saw daylight and didn’t look back as they rode off with game two and NIU’s first individual game loss in conference play this year.

“It was just the intensity,” commented Mollie Schuler of WSU on their game two victory. “We all really wanted to win and we all knew we could do it if we played with each other and stuck together as a team.”

Although on the court NIU dominated game three, the statistics showed differently as the Raiders seemed to ride the Huskies’ backs while holding on for dear life. The Huskies held a narrow lead of 6-5 before Waite’s squad finished on a 9-1 run.

In game four action, WSU felt they were in trouble when it took a double hit violation by the Huskies to give them their first points.

By the time NIU had jumped out to a 13-2 lead it looked as though the Raiders were ready to walk away when four hits on the Huskies side gave WSU one last chance. After a Kori Schauer kill Kozak once again stepped to the line dishing out two more unreturnable serves.

“All along we knew we would be okay,” Kozak said after the match. “All I have to do is look at my teammates, and when I looked in their eyes I knew we were going to win.”

As a result of winning the match, NIU will be included for the first time ever in an NCAA Tournament which will field 64 teams from across the country.

After the match several Huskies were given awards including:

‘Amy Foulke, Kozak, Schauer, Becky Ramsey and Shelby Snyder earning All-Conference honors.

‘Kozak was given Mid-Con Player of the Year honors for her overall performance on the season.

‘Head Coach Pete Waite earned Mid-Con Coach of the Year accolades after he earned his second straight undefeated conference season.

“We’re going to the NCAA and we’re excited about that, no matter who we match up with,” Waite said. “That’s the best I’ve seen any Mid-Continent team play against us.

“Wright State played really well and truthfully, we weren’t playing well. Once we lost, we relaxed and played much better.”

With their first game loss came many questions as to whether they were concerned or knew how to react.

“I (Waite) asked them before the match, ‘what happens if we lose a game?’ Their response was ‘we win the next game.’ I knew they had the confidence to came back. Losing a game is okay as long as long as we win the match.”