Khavon Thomas | Northern Star
DeKALB — The NIU volleyball team was swept in straight sets in the second of back-to-back matches against the University of Toledo Rockets Saturday.
“The team struggled with being a team,” freshman middle blocker Charli Atiemo said. “When we get down, we get down. Toledo’s a great team and they caught us when we were at our weakest today.”
NIU entered the match with a record of 10-10 fresh off a 3-1 win Friday against the 15-7 Rockets.
The first set of the match saw the Rockets open up the scoring with a service error from NIU junior defensive specialist/libero Samantha Juerez. The Huskies responded with a kill by freshman middle blocker Stella Barr.
After taking a 4-1 lead, Toledo remained ahead for the remainder of the tournament, with Huskies remaining within six points throughout. The Rockets won the opening set 25-21 to take a 1-0 lead on the match.
Toledo once again drew first blood in the second set and proceeded to take an early 5-1. The Huskies fought their way back to tie the score at 12-12. The two teams engaged in a brief shootout before Toledo went ahead 15-13. From that point, the Rockets charged ahead to take another 25-21 victory on the set.
Having been unable to take a lead for the entirety of the first two sets, head coach Ray Gooden commented on the team’s struggles with making initial contact with the ball.
“We have to handle our first contact a little better and win some of those tough plays,” Gooden said. “It could be a big swing, a big block (or) a touch on defense. We just didn’t have that tonight.”
Entering the third set down 2-0, the Huskies struck first with a kill by sophomore setter Ella Mihacevich. NIU extended the lead to 4-1 before Toledo clawed back to even the score 4-4. The squads would exchange points before the Rockets added seven consecutive points on the scoreboard to lead 15-10.
Toledo would stay in control of the lead to win the third set, successfully sweeping the Huskies 3-0 in the match. With the loss, the Huskies fall to 10-11 on the season. Their conference record also dropped to 4-7.
Having won the first of the two-game series, Gooden attributed Saturday’s defeat to the combativeness of the opponent.
“Last night, there were a lot of tough, scrappy plays that both teams were involved with,” Gooden said. “Tonight, Toledo won the share of those plays.”
Toledo sophomore outside hitter Taylor Alt had the highest number of kills in the match, accounting for 13 of the Rockets’ team total of 45 kills. The Huskies combined for 40 kills, being led by Atiemo.
“Today was a rough day,” Atiemo said. “Toledo played a great game. When it came to our side and earning kills, it was tougher. They had a better blocking setup. That’s something we have to work on collectively.”
Ahead of next week’s matchup, Gooden indicated that the team will look to improve upon the stability of their play.
“I think (the biggest area to address is) consistency for us,” Gooden said. “Our service team started off slow but got better later on. I thought our attacking had moments. We just gotta be more consistent to play against the teams as we move forward.”
The Huskies will resume action on Friday as they remain at home to take on another conference rival in Kent State University. The match begins at 5 p.m. in Victor E. Court.