Team splits weekend matches

By Nathan Lindquist

It had been 10 years since the NIU volleyball team lost its season opener.

But with the Huskies trailing Illinois-Chicago two games to none on the road Friday night, the streak appeared to be in peril.

Entering the third and possibly deciding game, Kate McCullagh wasn’t worried.

She knew the young Huskies team was going to pull out the comeback, and her match-high 33 kills sparked the Huskies to extend the streak to 11 years.

“That match was huge for us,” McCullagh, the junior middle blocker said. “Even though we were down 2-0, we were so confident. We just knew we would take that match.”

With their 23-30, 27-30, 30-24, 30-26, 19-17 win over UIC, NIU (1-1) managed to split the opening weekend with a four-game loss at home Saturday night against Northern Iowa.

“It’s good experience for the young players,” NIU coach Ray Gooden said. “We need to work on our ability to score the critical points. We have to counter-punch, especially when it gets tight at the end of a game.”

Even with a starting lineup featuring three freshmen, NIU counter-punched the Flames (0-2) effectively thanks to McCullagh and 15 kills from freshman middle blocker Joelle Beisel.

The tandem’s offense pushed the Huskies into a decisive Game 5, where an additional comeback from an 8-5 deficit was needed to pull out a 19-17 victory.

“I’m finding all the hitters pretty good,” freshman setter Jenny Dziubla said.

“Our passers are doing awesome with getting me the ball, and the hitters are putting it away.”

With its home debut against Northern Iowa (2-0) the following night at Victor E. Court, the team’s nerves in front of the crowd did not manifest right away.

With McCullagh and Beisel combining for 13 kills, the Huskies ran their offense effectively while collecting 5.5 team blocks to take Game 1 by a 30-28 score.

But with a crowd of 369 behind the Huskies, the nerves started to kick in for NIU in Game 2. Despite trailing 16-10 at one point, the visiting Panthers clawed their way back to tie the score at 23. With the lead gone, the Huskies would only score one more point en route to a 30-24 loss.

For the next two games, the NIU offense could not overcome 17 errors while Northern Iowa found the holes in the defense to close out the match 30-23 and 30-25. McCullagh and Beisel were the only Huskies in double-figure kills with 23 apiece, while Northern Iowa’s balanced attack had four players with at least 10.

Dziubla also collected 95 assists over the weekend matches in her first action as the team’s offensive leader.

“It’s really important to get confidence early,” the freshman said. “We’re definitely feeling more comfortable out there and talking a lot. We just need to work on the basics and push harder.”