Huskies subdued by Ball State at home

NIU loses top standing in Mid-American Conference play


Northern Star File Photo

Outside hitter Katie Jablonski (center) and middle blocker Sammi Lockwood attempt to block an attack from Ball State’s opposite hitter Natalie Mitchem during NIU volleyball’s Friday night match at Victor E. Court. NIU volleyball will host four training camps in July. (Northern Star File Photo)

DeKALB – Friday’s matchup between two Mid-American Conference juggernauts ended with NIU volleyball’s second home loss of 2022.

Ball State University (13-6, 5-2 MAC) dethroned the conference-leading NIU Huskies (13-5, 6-2 MAC) in four sets at Victor E. Court.

Head coach Ray Gooden credited Ball State while taking responsibility for the loss.

“Ball State did a great job today,” Gooden said. “I have to do a better job of making sure our team is ready to go.”

The Cardinals prevailed behind a trio of hitters with double-digit kills. BSU’s senior libero Maggie Huber led its defensive efforts with 30 digs out of 99 total.

“They played amazing defense,” senior outside hitter Katie Jablonski said. “I think we just struggled to find the court on their side. They were getting a lot of ups.”

Each side of the net had 187 swings across four sets. Ball State had more success with 64 kills to contribute to a .264 hitting percentage. NIU had 52 kills and a hitting percentage of .166.

Jablonski was the frontrunner of NIU’s side of the court with 15 kills and 19 digs, the latter statistic tying a career-high. Sophomore libero Francesca Bertucci spearheaded the Huskie defense with 25 digs.

Ball State led the Huskies in the all-time series, 37-35, prior to Friday’s match. The previous meeting of the MAC rivals ended in a BSU sweep of NIU on Oct. 16, 2021.

Runs, runs, runs

Strings of scoring played a significant role in Ball State’s ability to overthrow its MAC West rival. NIU saw the Cardinals put together six scoring runs for four or more points throughout the evening.

NIU took a page from Ball State’s back by using a five-point scoring streak in the third set that helped the Huskies avoid a shutout.

“Ball State did a good job being a step ahead of us for a little while,” Gooden said. “Then we came back, and I think we used too much energy where we needed to win a couple tight plays.”

Gooden believes that his team is able to hold up to the competition, only needing more energy.

“I think we’re capable of doing it, I know we’re capable of doing it,” Gooden said. “It’s just a matter of being able to do it for a bit longer.

An unideal start for NIU

Ball State took itself to a fast start with a 7-3 lead. NIU bounced back to force ties at 12, 13 and 15 points. The Cardinals used a 5-0 run late in the set to catapult them to a 25-19 win and an early upper hand. NIU’s loss in the first set spelled a grim fate as the Huskies were 1-4 in matches where they lost the opening set.

Scoring gets streaky in set two

A pair of 5-0 runs in Friday’s second set helped Ball State spring out to a 2-0 match lead.

BSU got an early upper hand after scoring the first two points. NIU bounced back and brought the game to 13-9 in favor of the Huskies. The Cardinals tallied three kills and a service ace, combined with an NIU ball handling error, to jump ahead 14-13.

The Huskies briefly regained the lead before BSU took off on another run. A trio of Cardinal kills and a pair of Jablonski attack errors put the set at a 19-15 BSU advantage.

Ball State’s junior outside hitter Cait Snyder went to work in the winding stages of the second set. Snyder logged the Cardinals’ final three kills of the set to bring about set point. NIU junior setter Ella Mihacevich’s attack at the corner fell out of bounds to give Ball State the set, 25-18.

Huskies avoid the sweep

NIU opened the scoring for the first time of the match with the first two points of set three. The set turned into a battle that eventually led to a Cardinals lead as high as six points. The Huskies rallied back to tie the set at 22.

“I think we just started to get a little more creative,” Jablonski said. “Find a little more room off the edge of their hands and stuff, find a little more court. I know that it helped us have better energy.”

There was one final tradeoff of scores before junior right side hitter Emily Dykes secured NIU’s first win of the match with a pair of kills. The Huskies prevented a Ball State sweep as they claimed a 25-23 victory in the third set.

Ball State’s finishing blow

The deciding set opened with competitiveness from both sides. The Huskies and Cardinals tied at points one through five. NIU benefitted from an BSU attack error before the Cardinals dropped six straight points on the Huskies to go up 11-6.

NIU allowed the Cardinals to add to their advantage to go up 19-10. Ball State remained in control and sealed their 3-1 win. The Huskies were handed their first loss of the season since their 3-0 loss to South Dakota State University on opening day, Aug. 26.

NIU’s defeat knocks it off the top spot in the Mid-American Conference standings. Bowling Green State University (11-7, 6-1 MAC) overtook the Huskies for No. 1 in the MAC. NIU sat in second place by Friday’s end.

What’s next

The Huskies will remain at home for their next action as they resume their series against Ball State at 2 p.m. Saturday at Victor E. Court.