NIU’s winning hopes dashed by Golden Flashes

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Alyssa Queen

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. (Alyssa Queen | Northern Star)

DeKALB – Struggles to close out sets proved costly for NIU volleyball as the Huskies were swept by the Kent State University Golden Flashes on Friday evening at the Memorial and Athletic Convocation Center in Kent, Ohio.

NIU kept close with the Golden Flashes in each of the matches’ three sets but allowed Kent State to break away every time. 

Head coach Ray Gooden assumed responsibility for Friday’s loss and credited Kent State for its performance.

“I just need to do a better job as a coach for our team,” Gooden said. “Kent did a really good job of playing tough against us.”

NIU had its second-lowest hitting percentage of the season (.102). The Huskies totaled 34 kills and racked up 21 attacking errors throughout the match.

Senior outside hitter Katie Jablonski was NIU’s top offensive performer. Jablonski, the current kills leader for the Huskies, smashed a game-high 12 kills. Sophomore libero Francesca “Franki” Bertucci headed up the defense with a game-high 23 digs.

The Golden Flashes displayed offensive superiority with an impressive .345 hitting percentage, their third-best of the season so far.

Kent State was first to the board in the opening set. NIU fired back with its first points and eventually brought the set to a 17-17 tie. The Golden Flashes then scored six straight points, four of them coming off of NIU attack errors. The set ended in favor of KSU, 25-18, giving them an early match lead.

The second set was nearly identical to the first. NIU kicked off the scoring and engaged in a tough duel that led to a 16-15 NIU lead. The Huskie advantage quickly disappeared as the Golden Flashes ended the set with a 10-1 scoring run. The resulting 25-17 set victory gave KSU a commanding 2-0 match lead.

Friday’s final set maintained the trend of the first two. The Huskies and Golden Flashes engaged in another scoring duel, with NIU ahead 18-16. 

KSU graduate middle blocker Danie Tyson began to cause trouble for the Huskies two rallies later with a solo block against Jablonski to tie the set at 18. Tyson then teamed up with freshman right side hitter Mia Soerensen for three straight blocks against the Huskies. 

NIU’s miscues persisted until the end of the match as they fell 25-20, giving Kent State the sweep.

With its latest defeat, NIU has now lost four of its past five matches after once holding a 13-4 win-loss record. 

The Huskies also dropped to No. 6 in the Mid-American Conference standings. NIU was originally the conference leader heading into its first match of the series against Ball State University on Oct. 14.

NIU will be faced with the Ohio University Bobcats team that swept them in the regular season last year and ultimately knocked them out of the 2021 MAC Tournament. 

Gooden said his team can do good things when they play with their intensity and energy, adding that NIU must remain focused throughout its upcoming bout.

“We’re just going to need to continue to play hard throughout each and every play and work our hardest to not have any breaks,” Gooden said.

NIU’s match against Ohio will begin at 3 p.m. CST Saturday at the Convocation Center in Athens, Ohio. The broadcast will be available on ESPN3 and live statistics will be available on StatBroadcast.

Tickets to attend the match in-person are available for purchase on the Ohio Bobcats Athletics’ website. General admission is priced at $5. Groups of 10 people or more can buy tickets for $2 each.