Huskies take lessons from win over WIU, loss to Cal State Bakersfield


James Krause | Northern Star

Freshman middle blocker Charli Atiemo attempts a spike against Western Illinois on the morning of Aug. 27 at Victor E. Court.

By James Krause

DeKALB — The NIU volleyball team started their regular season by splitting their first two matches of the Huskie Invitational on Friday.

The Huskies beat the Western Illinois University Leathernecks 3-1 on Friday morning but fell short in a 3-1 loss against the Cal State University Bakersfield Roadrunners in the evening.

Head coach Ray Gooden said he enjoyed having energy in the building for NIU’s victory over WIU. Victor E. Court was packed with supporters for the opening match despite the 10 a.m. start time.

“I think it was cool to get back to Victor E. Court and start the morning off with a win,” Gooden said. “Every team here is trying to battle and get wins, so I thought it was good to get a great team effort against Western (Illinois).”

As the nickname of Roadrunners might suggest, the tempo of Cal State Bakersfield was what gave NIU problems in their loss. Gooden said CSUB displayed the kind of tempo he wants to see developed by his own players. 

“Credit to Bakersfield, they have good tempo,” Gooden said. “That’s a tempo we’re hoping to match and hopefully surpass as far as having some diversity and consistency. It’s a good learning lesson for our group heading into not just tomorrow but the rest of the season.”

Huskies handle WIU in four sets: 25-22, 23-25, 25-20, 25-14

NIU took the first set 25-22, fending off a late set charge from the Leathernecks. The WIU momentum and mistakes by the Huskies put them down by as many as four early on in set two. Ultimately, the Huskies allowed two set-ending errors to even the score at 1-1.

The Huskies at one point led in the third set 9-3, but the advantage was once again cut down by the Leathernecks to bring it to within two points nearing the 25 point mark. The Huskies found their fourth gear, closing out with a 7-2 run to secure the go-ahead set.

NIU took another huge lead to start the fourth set but were able to keep it this time. Senior middle blocker Angie Gromos sealed the game for NIU with a spike kill to win set four 25-14.

Junior outside hitter Katie Jablonski had a game-high 14 kills, including three service aces. Senior middle blocker Jasmine Kemp and sophomore setter Ella Mihacevich each had 11 kills.

NIU errors prove costly in loss to Roadrunners: 21-25, 25-20, 18-25, 15-25

After Cal State Bakersfield got a lead as large as four, an 8-2 run by NIU put the Huskies and Roadrunners in a back and forth fight for the first set. Just as NIU had pulled back into a battle, four consecutive attacking errors helped put CSUB ahead for good and take the first set 25-21.

NIU’s blocking helped them to a tying set two. Two blocks came from junior outside hitter Kaitlyn Bell and freshman middle blocker Charli Atiemo. Bell had three kills in the second set, including the 25-20 decider for NIU.

The errors that hindered NIU in the first set reared their head again in the third, attacking at a poor .029 percentage rate. The Roadrunners rode those errors to a 25-18 set win.

NIU had stalled out, unable to put up an improved attack in the fourth set. The Roadrunners secured the match with a 25-15.

Jablonski led the Huskies in kills with 14. Roadrunners senior outside hitter Hayley McCluskey led the game with 15 kills.

NIU wraps up their matches for the tournament at 2 p.m. Saturday against the U.S. Air Force Academy Falcons. The game will be streamed live on ESPN+.