Huskies close weekend with back-to-back MAC wins

NIU’s weekend wins extend winning streak to six

DeKALB – NIU volleyball (9-3, 2-0 MAC) closed out its first Mid-American Conference of the season with back-to-back wins, routing the University of Akron Zips (3-10, 0-2 MAC) Saturday in three straight sets.

Saturday’s win came just hours after NIU delivered a different sweep of the Zips in the series’ first match on Friday evening. NIU’s pair of conference wins brought them out to a six-game win streak.

Firing on all cylinders

Head coach Ray Gooden talked about the team’s improvement as the match progressed.

“We were uncharacteristically higher with our serves,” Gooden said. “As we became more consistent with our serving, our defense picked up – our blocking picked up, and then our overall team play picked up.”

Sophomore middle blocker Charli Atiemo led the NIU offense with 12 kills and 52.4% hitting. The Huskies spread the ball well in the match. Behind Atiemo, four different Huskies tied for second in kills, each earning eight.

The Huskies, now undefeated in conference play at 2-0, shined in their defensive and serving performances. Junior setter Ella Mihacevich logged 35 assists and a service ace. Her eight kills were two shy of helping her notch her second double-double of the weekend.

Akron was able to slightly recover from Friday’s attacking woes. The Zips had a .171 hitting percentage. This was a minor improvement on the .095 percentage they finished with in the first game of the series.

“They definitely gave us more than they did last night (Friday night),” Mihacevich said. “We did a good job at analyzing, responding and acknowledging that it’s not going to be a 9-25 win every single time.”

On the defensive side, NIU held the Zips to 17.1% hitting. Sophomore libero Francesca Bertucci had 17 digs while junior middle blocker Sammi Lockwood had a pair of solo blocks, the last earning NIU the match-winning point.

“We adapted well over time,” Atiemo said. “I know the first set was a slow start but we were able to make some changes in the second and third.”

Another day, another sweeping performance

NIU opened the set with a scoring battle that led to a tie at 7-all. A pair of kills and an opposing attack error helped NIU break away and become the frontrunners for the remainder of the set. NIU took the set 25-20, thanks to a set-winning kill by junior right side hitter Emily Dykes.

The second set opened with a tradeoff of points. NIU pulled away from a 7-7 tie and put together a 4-0 run to force an Akron timeout. The Zips came out of the break and chipped away at NIU’s advantage. Akron brought itself within one point, down 15-14, to force NIU to call its own timeout.

The momentum reverted to the Huskies, going up 23-18. NIU took the set later on after Akron freshman right side hitter Chloe Werner’s attack was repelled off the hands of a pair of Huskie defenders. The Huskies won the set 25-20 to take a commanding 2-0 match lead.

Down 3-2 at the start of the third set, the Huskies picked up a trio of kills to go along with a pair of Akron attack errors to get ahead 7-3. Both sides went blow-for-blow from that point with each team contributing seven points a piece to the score (20-16).

NIU’s defensive front came up big in the final possessions. Lockwood and sophomore outside hitter Nikolette Nedic teamed up at the net to block a Zip attack and brought the game to match point. A solo effort by Lockwood sealed the set win, 25-18.

What’s next

NIU will have a short turnaround as they prepare for a Tuesday night matchup with the Western Michigan University Broncos (10-4, 2-0 MAC) and a road trip to Buffalo, New York, next weekend.

“We’re going to go through a grinder right now,” Gooden said. “Our team’s going to have to really rely on their training to work through these next fews days to be successful.”

The Huskies will play the match against Western Michigan at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Victor E. Court. The match will be available on ESPN+ while live stats can be tracked at SIDEARM Sports.