Volleyball sweeps UIC to close Huskie Invitational

NIU goes 2-1 to start regular season


Sean Reed

(Left to right) Ella Mihacevich, Sammi Lockwood and Katie Jablonski positioning to receive a spike from NJIT during the first set of the team’s match on Friday. (Sean Reed | Northern Star)

DeKALB — NIU volleyball picked up its second win of the regular season with a 3-0 victory over the University of Illinois Chicago to wrap up competition at the Huskie Invitational on Saturday.

“We came out with the mindset that we needed to defend our house,” volleyball head coach Ray Gooden said. “If we take a break for one second, people can and people will challenge us and do good things against us. We gave UIC the full respect they deserve today (Saturday) and ended up with a pretty solid result.”

Saturday’s win gave the Huskies a share of the weekend as NIU, South Dakota State University and the University of Illinois Chicago all finished the tournament with a 2-1 record. The New Jersey Institute of Technology was winless for the invite.

Huskies land the first blow

NIU drew first blood in the first set with a kill by junior middle blocker Sammi Lockwood and a service ace by junior setter Ella Mihacevich to take a 2-0 lead. UIC’s first point came off an attack error by senior outside hitter Katie Jablonski. The Huskies proceeded to mount a 6-1 lead and force a UIC timeout.

The Flames came out of the timeout with a 6-4 run to make the Huskies uncomfortable enough to take a timeout of their own. NIU took to a 14-10 lead. UIC kept NIU within four points for most of the set before a pair of attack errors and a Lockwood kill gave the Huskies a seven-point, 23-16 lead. NIU sealed the deal after another Lockwood kill set Jablonski up to end the match 25-19 with a kill of her own.

Late UIC errors create NIU opportunities

NIU began the second-set scoring with a kill from senior outside hitter Brianna “Bina” Scuric. UIC kept themselves in close proximity as they tied with the Huskies six points in a row. The Huskies were able to create breathing room with back-to-back scores, going up 13-11

A pair of scoring runs later in the set allowed NIU to hold a 21-16 advantage over the Flames. UIC’s ensuing 5-0 run tied the game at 21-21. A quick trade of scores followed by a pair of UIC errors put the Huskies at set point, 24-22. Sophomore libero Francesca Bertucci’s service error gave the Flames their final point before UIC junior middle blocker Zahria Woodard’s attack error ended the game and gave the Huskies a 2-0 match lead.

A battle to the final rally

Saturday’s final set of action proved to be the most competitive of the afternoon. The game tied 10 times and the lead switched hands five times. The majority of the set consisted of brief back-and-forths and a few scoring runs mixed in.

The Flames eventually went up 23-20, two points away from forcing a fourth set. NIU tripled up one the scoreboard with a service ace and a pair of kills, tying matters up at 23. UIC recorded one last kill before a kill by junior middle blocker Emily Dykes and a service ace by senior outside hitter Brianna Scuric set NIU up to complete the sweep. The Flames ended the game by their own mistake as a bad set by graduate outside hitter Paola Santiago sealed NIU’s victory, 26-24.

“We handled ourselves really well,” Jablonski said. “I don’t think there was any nervousness. It was just like, ‘we’re confident we’re going to get the next point.’”

UIC junior outside hitter Martina Delucchi finished as the match’s kills leader, tallying 13 kills between three sets. Jablonski and Lockwood combined for 21 kills, more than half of NIU’s total kills (41).

The Huskies hold a 2-1 record heading into their next outing at the Valparaiso Tournament, where they will play three matches in two days. NIU’s first matchup of the tournament will be against Campbell University at 1 p.m. Friday.