Highlander to Huskie: Dykes poised for success at NIU

Junior transfer stepping into leadership role in NIU volleyball

%28Left+to+right%29+Sophomore+middle+blocker+Charli+Atiemo%2C+senior+outside+hitter+Katie+Jablonski+and+junior+setter+Ella+Mihacevich+awaiting+the+start+of+a+new+rally+as+junior+middle+blocker%2Foutsider+hitter+Emily+Dykes+serves+in+the+first+set+against+NJIT+on+Friday+afternoon.+%28Sean+Reed+%7C+Northern+Star%29

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)

Editor’s Note: This story is the first of a two-part series featuring NIU volleyball’s latest transfers, Emily Dykes and Sammi Lockwood. The feature story for Lockwood will be released on Sept. 18.

It can be said that adjusting to a new team and having immediate production as a student-athlete is no easy task. NIU volleyball’s junior right-side hitter Emily Dykes has accomplished this in the matter of one offseason.

Dykes joined the Huskies before the Spring 2022 semester, making her one of NIU’s earliest 2022 arrivals. She transferred to NIU after playing two seasons at Radford University, a public school in Radford, Virginia.

“Ray knows everyone”

Dykes’ recruitment to NIU was made possible by Marci Byers, the former head coach at Radford University that recruited her out of Ayden-Grifton High School in Winterville, North Carolina. Byers has connections with NIU volleyball head coach Ray Gooden.

“She (Byers) helped me get recruited for my transfer,” Dykes said. “She actually knows Ray. So then she got Ray in touch with me.”

When asked about the connection between Byers and Gooden, Dykes had a simple response:

“Ray knows everyone.”

A leap of faith

Dykes’ transition to a new school involved an unusual decision: To transfer over the winter break.

“That was actually a really hard decision for me to make when I was transferring,” Dykes said. “During the spring, it’s much harder to get recruited. It’s literally a month-and-a-half you have to get recruited to a new school.”

Gooden explained that the first interactions with Dykes occurred at the end of the 2021 season. Talks progressed rapidly during the winter break. Dykes enrolled at NIU and arrived in time to begin classes in spring.

“For her to take a leap of faith like that, it says a lot about her,” Gooden said. “It’s been a huge benefit for us, not only on the court but off the court.”

The decision to begin at NIU during the spring semester has paid some dividends. Dykes was named to the NIU College of Business’ Dean’s List for Spring 2022. She was also one of 64 student-athletes to earn a 4.0 GPA during that same term.

Adjusting from the East Coast to the Midwest

One of the major adjustments Dykes had to make was adapting to a new team about 950 miles away from home.

“At Radford, I could go home for a weekend,” Dykes said. “But here, I don’t really have that option since it’s 14 hours away.”

Since coming to DeKalb, Dykes has looked to assert her role at a new school with a new roster of teammates.

“At my old team, I was very looked down upon,” Dykes said. “Coming in here as an upperclassman, I feel like I should make my place known as a leader.”

Dykes said interacting with her new teammates has been a positive experience.

“They are a lot of fun,” Dykes said. “They’re all really unique and different in their own ways. I love it here.”

Ace of aces: Dykes’ stellar Huskie debut

One match was all it took for Dykes to begin making an impact for the Huskies. She made her starting debut during NIU’s matchup with the New Jersey Institute of Technology to open the Huskie Invitational on Aug. 26. The match featured an impressive serving performance by Dykes. She tallied five service aces in the match. Four of those came in consecutive service attempts.

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

The final box score saw Dykes finish with her five aces, nine kills and four blocks. She led the Huskies in aces and blocks in the match. Her nine kills were second only to senior outside hitter Katie Jablonski’s 17 kills.

Force on the front row

Dykes poses a unique threat to opposing defenses. Standing at 6-foot-1, Dykes uses her height and a 26-inch vertical jump to make plays at the net.

Junior right-side hitter Emily Dykes attempting to block an attack by South Dakota State University outside hitter Crystal Burk during a match on Aug. 26. NIU went on the lose the match 3-0 as they hosted the Huskie Invitational at Victor E. Court in DeKalb. (Sean Reed)

“Normally taller girls can’t jump very high,” Dykes said. “I get up there.”

In two years with the Radford Highlanders, Dykes recorded 154 kills and 1.60 kills per set. She also had a 0.137 (13.7%) hitting percentage.

“We knew that she had terminating ability,” Gooden said. “It just kind of worked out when we had her in the spring to put her on the right side and it’s been great.”

Gooden said Dykes has diversity in her playing style. She has the ability to run multi-tempo attacks on all areas of the court. He also noted her progression during the off period.

“She’s worked a lot in the offseason on her complete game,” Gooden said. “Those things just make it harder for her to come off the floor than stay on it.”

Dykes and Lockwood: United by change

After flying solo during the spring, Dykes was joined by another incoming transfer, junior middle blocker Sammi Lockwood, during the summer.

Lockwood joined NIU after three seasons with the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish. 2022 marks the first season at NIU for both players. That being said, it’s not surprising that the two live with one another.

Pullquote Photo

For her to take a leap of faith like that, it says a lot about her.”

— Volleyball head coach Ray Gooden

“It has been helpful having her be a late college transfer as well,” Lockwood said. “She kind of went through the same thing almost alone in the spring.”

Dykes and Lockwood’s bond translates onto the court with both currently being on NIU’s starting lineup.

“Even if we didn’t live together, we could still play together pretty well because we trust each other on the court,” Lockwood said.

The duo’s gameday chemistry has helped them take the second and third spots on NIU’s kills leaderboard. Lockwood is second with 77 kills. Dykes is five kills behind with 72.

With eight matches now in the books, Dykes will continue to help the Huskies in their quest for a berth in the Mid-American Conference Tournament in November.