Volleyball clinches MAC playoff spot

NIU honors seniors and clinches final tournament seed with win over Buffalo

Senior+middle+blocker+Angie+Gromos+spikes+a+ball+in+NIUs+win+on+Nov.+13+against+Buffalo.+The+victory+sealed+NIU+a+spot+in+the+MAC+tournament.

Courtesy of NIU Athletics

Senior middle blocker Angie Gromos spikes a ball in NIU’s win on Nov. 13 against Buffalo. The victory sealed NIU a spot in the MAC tournament.

Waleed Alamieh, Sports Reporter

DeKALB — The volleyball team clinched the final spot in the Mid-American Conference tournament on the same day they celebrated this year’s class of seniors.

The Huskies defeated the University at Buffalo Bulls in straight sets Saturday, after honoring its four seniors; middle blockers Jasmine Kemp and Angie Gromos, defensive specialist Miranda Karlen, and setter Grace Balensiefer. 

Prior to the game, the seniors walked out with family members and were given framed jerseys to commemorate their time at NIU. 

“I was afraid I was going to be pretty emotional after the pregame,” Balensiefer said. “But we kind of got it over with, and we’re just ready to take care of business against Buffalo. 

NIU head coach Ray Gooden was impressed with the way his team stayed focused in the game with all the festivities going on.

Seniors middle blockers Angie Gromos (left) and Jasmine Kemp, setter Grace Balensiefer and defensive specialist Miranda Karlen recieve framed jerseys and flowers in a pre-game ceremony on Nov. 13. The group make up the graduating class of players on this year’s volleyball team. (Courtesy of NIU Athletics)

“There’s always so much emotion on senior night,” Gooden said. “I thought our group did a really good job of staying true to the mission, and it was positive that everyone played for each other tonight.”

The seniors used that emotion to play some of their best sets of the season. Gromos set a career high 10 blocks in the match along with seven total kills and a combined 13.5 total points in the match. 

Gooden wasn’t shocked to see Gromos’ box score filled because he has seen her grow over the past four years. 

“The hardest part for a lot of this is people look at just what’s done in a match,” Gooden said ”I think Angie (Gromos) over her time at NIU has done some amazing things from where she started. I don’t think anyone on our team is surprised by what she can do.” 

The Huskies and Bulls played a very tight game all the way through. Both teams played very competitive from the jump, with three lead changes within the first 20 points played of the first set. Trailing 8-7, Gromos would give NIU a necessary spark by getting a kill and following that up with a block, sending the Huskies bench into a cheering frenzy. 

The Bulls responded to tie the score at 15-15 at the media timeout. NIU came out of the break with back-to-back kills from junior outside hitter Katie Jablonski to take a 17-15 lead. The Bulls would again tie it up, scoring the next two points off NIU errors. 

The Huskies closed out the first set in dominating fashion, going on an improbable run that was fueled by the offense and defense. Gromos had two blocks and a kill to go along with two kills from junior outside hitter Kaitlyn Bell and a Jablonski ace to give the Huskies a 25-18 set win. 

The second set was another competitive one, with a total of seven lead changes throughout. The Bulls were able to take a 15-14 lead into the media timeout. The Huskies responded with three straight points off of the Bulls’ errors to take a 17-15 lead. The teams traded a couple points before NIU took a three point lead off kills from junior right side hitter Ella Mihacevich and Jablonski. The Huskies eventually took the set 25-21. 

The third set was a rather quick one for the Huskies, starting out with an early 5-1 lead that they held onto the rest of the set. The Huskies lead slowly kept growing, getting as high as 11 points. Gromos had three kills and three blocks, including the set and match winner to give the Huskies a 25-16 win. 

A lot of the Huskies’ nerves were relinquished prior to the game with Central Michigan University losing their matchup against the University of Toledo Saturday, meaning NIU clinched the sixth and final spot in the MAC tournament for the first time since 2018. 

“We were in the locker room before our match watching the Central game,” Balenseifer said. “We were counting down the points, like one more point. Then (Toledo) finally hit 25 and we got to celebrate in the locker room.” 

The Huskies will have one more match at 6 p.m. Wednesday for their final home game of the season against the Western Michigan University Broncos.