Volleyball hosts weekend tournament; soccer teams try to stay undefeated

By James Nokes

Practice on Victor E. Court this week has been focused on a goal, but has had its share of lighthearted moments.

The Huskies will host 10 matches at Victor E. Court from Friday to Saturday at their own Comfort Inn and Suites Invitational.

“A lot of footwork, a lot of transitioning, faster on offense and more efficient passing,” is how senior setter Marie Zidek described the focus of this week’s practice.

“It’s a very fun weekend,” Zidek said. “Four grueling matches against four good teams. There will be plenty of opportunities to step up.”

“I’m excited; it’s good competition,” outside hitter Irene Johnson said.

Although this is her first time playing in NIU’s home tournament, the freshman player feels “the same drive to beat all the teams.”

Coach Ray Gooden shares the determination.

“No one match is sweeter than another [match],” Gooden said. “If we can win our home tournament, nothing would be greater.”

Not all practice in preparation for the invite was grueling. After practice Tuesday, Gooden grabbed a rolling chair for assistant coach Kirstine Jensen so she didn’t have to walk off the court on crutches with her tapped ankle.

Gooden joked that with Jensen’s injury, he will be missing one starter this weekend for warm up drills.

Men’s soccer

It’s been a long time coming – five years, to be exact – since the NIU men’s soccer team started a season 1-0. Coach Steve Simmons plans to reverse the trend this weekend in Evanston, at Northwestern University’s Third Annual Lakeside Classic.

NIU opens the four-team tournament on in a 1 p.m. match-up Friday with St. Francis University (PA). On Sunday, NIU tangles with Western Kentucky University at noon.

NIU’s lineup is stocked with nine returning starters, and is hungry to build on the results of last Fall.

“Our returning players are going to make the most of their experience,” Simmons said, “and the new guys will get time to get their feet wet and build some confidence.”

Practice time has been spent finding the back of the net with more regularity, as the third-year coach said he wants his forwards to play with a mindset focused on finishing.

“We’ve got the personnel to finish, and we’ve been getting chances,” Simmons said. “We just need to cash that ‘pay check.’”

Women’s soccer

You may not know it, but the NIU women’s soccer team posted an undefeated opening weekend. Just don’t throw celebratory bouquets in the direction of Marci Miller. The first-year coach wants her team prepared for a pair of tough opponents this weekend.

NIU faces Wright State (1-1) at 5:30 on Friday at Huskie Soccer Field, and Sunday will travel to Lincoln Park to play DePaul (0-2) at 1 p.m.

“We are going to have to fight for balls in the air,” Miller said. “Wright State will be very good in the air, and their goalie can punt the ball a long way.”

A special guest stopped by practice Tuesday. NIU AD Jim Phillips congratulated the team for their success versus UW-GB and Western Illinois.

Thus far, Miller is encouraged with the performance of her team. She said they need to ‘bring it’ every game.