NIU volleyball returns to fall with start of preseason practice


Northern Star File Photo

Head Volleyball Coach Ray Gooden during a game in 2016.

By James Krause

DeKALB — This season, Head Volleyball Coach Ray Gooden was even more excited for the first day of practice than usual.

“I’m not going to lie; I’m just happy to be in the gym tomorrow,” Gooden said at NIU Media Day Monday. “Just to see our team, masked up or not, it’s not going to matter. We’re going to be in the gym and get a chance to (play).”

NIU women’s volleyball began preseason training Tuesday, with Gooden and the Huskies looking to wipe their memory of an 8-14 record last season.  The season took place in the Spring 2021 semester.

Gooden said the learning curve for situational awareness was high last season. Now, he hopes the lessons learned in the spring will carry through to the fall season.

“Last year, we started conference play against Bowling Green,” Gooden said. “We lost 15-13 in the fifth and were two plays away from turning that match. You know the clique; it could change our whole season. Those are the things you learn from throughout the year. Now, it’s a matter of being able to do that right away.” 

The Huskies veterans carry a load of experience into the fall season. Redshirt senior libero Miranda Karlen and senior setter Grace Balensiefer, the team’s leader in assists, played in all 22 games last season. Junior outside hitter and transfer from New Hampshire Katie Jablonski returns for her second season with NIU after leading the team in kills in the spring.

Gooden highlighted senior middle blocker Jasmine Kemp during his media day appearance Monday. Kemp led the team in blocks last season, but now Gooden is looking for her to grow as a leader to younger players. 

“We’re looking for her to provide leadership as well as continue to grow and develop as she has in the past,” Gooden said. “I think with her leadership, along with the older seniors we already have here and returning freshmen, that all can lead to a pretty positive year.”

Kemp and the seniors will look to develop a group of a half dozen freshmen who Gooden said he has high expectations for coming into camp.

“All these young women we have coming in, I think have a chance to contribute right away,” Gooden said. “It’s not just clique. I really think we have a lot of people who can really push it right from the get-go.”

The Huskies’ regular season begins Aug. 27 at Victor E. Court as they host the Huskie Invitational, playing three matches in two days. Before the regular season begins, NIU plays an exhibition game at 3 p.m. Aug. 21 in Cedar Falls, Iowa against the University of Northern Iowa Panthers.