Volleyball splits matches in season-opening tournament 

Huskies earn first win and loss of 2022


Sean Reed

(Left to right) Sophomore middle blocker Charli Atiemo, senior outside hitter Katie Jablonski and junior setter Ella Mihacevich awaiting the start of a new rally as junior middle blocker/outsider hitter Emily Dykes serves in the first set against NJIT on Friday afternoon. (Sean Reed | Northern Star)

DeKALB — NIU volleyball kicked off its 2022 season with a sweep of one opponent and a sweep by another during the first day of the annual Huskie Invitational Friday.

The Huskies secured their first win of the year with a 3-0 triumph over the New Jersey Institute of Technology. The matchup marked the first ever meeting between the Huskies and Highlanders.

Dykes shines in NIU debut

Junior middle blocker Emily Dykes was among NIU’s standouts in their match against NJIT. The transfer from Radford University was responsible for the Huskies’ game-winning kills in the first and second sets.

“It’s a big thing to make my part on the team known, especially as a junior coming in from another school,” Dykes said. “Ending both of those sets, I feel like I made myself known to other people.”

Dykes notched nine kills in the match, second to only senior outsider hitter Katie Jablonski’s 17 kills. She also established herself as a serving threat, recording five aces.

“That’s actually the best I’ve served in a really long time,” Dykes said. “The four aces in a row? Crazy.”

NJIT took to the scoreboard early to begin an early scoring shootout between the two teams that led to a 13-13 tie. Junior middle blocker Emily Dykes recorded an ace midway through the set to begin a scoring run that allowed NIU to break away to a 17-13 lead.

Ending both of those sets, I feel like I made myself known to other people.”

— Junior middle blocker Emily Dykes

A ball handling error by NJIT senior setter Juliana Impaglia put NIU up 24-20, a point shy of the winning mark. The Highlanders tallied an additional two points off a pair of serving mistakes before Dykes delivered a strike down the middle on set point to secure NIU’s 25-22.

NIU pulls off a comeback

The second set began in similar fashion to the first as NIU and NJIT engaged in another back-and-forth. The lead switched hands four times before the Highlanders got ahead 18-16, prompting NIU to call timeout. The Huskies briefly changed momentum to make it 18-18 all until NJIT climbed up four scores.

Down 24-20, the Huskies turned up the heat on their visits, earning three consecutive kills to force NJIT to call timeout. Both sides tied at 24 and 25 before senior outside hitter Brianna “Bina” Scuric set NIU up to win with a kill.

NIU’s finishing blow came off the right hand of Dykes, who tallied her second-winning kill in as many matches.

Shaking the jitters

NIU found itself in a constant scoring battle with NJIT in the early stages of all three sets.

It wasn’t until the third set when the Huskies found their stride. NIU’s third-set play-by-play featured scoring runs of 4-0, 5-0 and 7-0.

Jablonski delivered the winning kill, promptly completing the 3-0 sweep with a 25-14 win.

“We had some nervous jitters at the beginning, which was expected,” Jablonski said. “We did a really good job playing our own high level of volleyball against them (NJIT) and then picking it up against them at the end. We really go into our groove.”

Jackrabbits outduel Huskies

The second matchup of NIU’s regular season slate was a Friday evening battle with South Dakota State University. The Huskies entered the match with a 2-0 series record against the Jackrabbits, their last victory being on Sept. 2, 2016. SDSU successfully erased their past woes, putting NIU on the wrong end of a 3-0 shutout.

NIU junior middle blocker Emily Dykes attempting to block an attack from South Dakota State fifth-year outside hitter Crystal Burk. (Sean Reed)

NIU was first to the scoreboard in all three matches, building a 3-0 lead to open the first. NIU’s first-set lead soon turned into a 7-4 deficit that they never came back from. SDSU took the lead and rode to a 25-20 victory.

The Huskies put together another positive string of plays to start the second set, building a 5-0 that forced SDSU to call timeout. The timeout proved beneficial as the Jackrabbits climbed back to tie both teams at seven. Both teams drew even nine more times throughout the match, including at 24-24. SDSU capitalized on the ensuing Jablonski attack error with a kill by fifth-year outside hitter Crystal Burk to seal a 26-24 set victory and a 2-0 match lead.


Final effort comes up short

The final set proved to be the most intense as the lead switched hands nine times. SDSU’s efforts to break away from NIU were futile as the Huskies rallied to keep the Jackrabbits close. The evening duel between the two teams took them past the 25-point mark, finding themselves tied at 26-26.

SDSU called the game after an error by Nazli Güvener was followed up with the set-winning kill by freshman outside hitter Masa Scheierman. The Jackrabbits’ 28-26 win in the third set ended to send NIU into the night with a 3-0 defeat.

“South Dakota State did a good job of making us play,” Gooden said. “We weren’t able to find the level of consistency we needed to be able to take advantage of those plays.”

Preparing for UIC’s heat

NIU has one matchup remaining in this year’s Huskie Invitational as they face off with the University of Illinois Chicago Flames at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Jablonski said the key to securing an NIU win over the Flames is to find a way to get a lead and maintain it.

“We just need to start off a little hotter,” Jablonski said. “We started off a little slow and we let people go on some runs. We were just clawing our way back up to them.”

UIC ended Friday as the winningest team in the tourney, winning both of its matches against SDSU and NJIT. NIU and SDSU both sit at 1-1 going into Saturday while NJIT has yet to win a match in their regular season.

“We still have a chance at ending up with a share of the weekend,” Gooden said. “We have to play at our best level of the weekend against arguably the best team here.”

Saturday’s game will be broadcast on ESPN+. Live statistics for the game can be monitored here.