Volleyball blanked in two road MAC games

Senior middle blocker Brinley Milbrath and sophomore setter Grace Balensiefer await an opponent's serve Aug. 30 during a match against Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville at Victor E. Court in the Convocation Center.

DeKALB — The volleyball team remains in third place in the Mid-American Conference West Division despite dropping two away games Friday and Saturday. The Huskies lost Friday in three sets to the University of Akron Zips and Saturday against the University of Buffalo Bulls.

Sophomore setter Grace Balensiefer recorded her fifth straight double-double against Akron Friday night with 23 assists and 10 digs.

Head Coach Ray Gooden talked about how Balensiefer’s role as the setter before giving credit to the setter's team.

“I think Grace has done a great job embracing her role,” Gooden said. “She is doing things to help our group find success, but I’m confident she would tell you that a lot of her success comes from our passing unit like Miranda, Kennedy Shelly, Sam Juarez and the young ones hitting on the pins in Kaitlyn Bell and Peyton Tilly.”

Match One

Both teams came out with high intensity to open the match, and in the first set were tied nine times in the first 24 volleys.

Akron pulled ahead on a late 7-3 scoring run to take a 19-15 lead. Akron would go on to win the first set 25-22 with a match high 15 kills as a team.

The energy was even higher in the second set as the teams were tied 13 times. Both teams had match highs in kills in the second; NIU had 14, and Akron once again had 15 kills.

The Zips went on to win the set, propelled by a late scoring run of 8-4 to win 25-22 and take the two set advantage.  

Akron jumped out to a 7-1 lead to start the final set with a match-high hitting percentage of .542. The Huskies did not have similar success as they had a hitting percentage of negative .033. 

Akron would go on to win the set 25-12, led by senior outside hitter Elya Karsner with 14 kills and a hitting percentage of .414%. NIU’s top performer for the match was junior middle blocker Kennedy Wallace with nine kills and two blocks.

Gooden said taking the foot off the gas in the match against Akron was what led to the loss.

“The group worked really hard against a good Akron team; especially in the second set,” Gooden said. “It was just a matter of a couple plays that would have made the difference to tie the match 1-1.”

Match Two

Buffalo jumped out to an early 5-1 lead in the first match. The Bulls went on to win the first set 25-20 with a hitting percentage of .303. On the other side of the net, the Huskies struggled, posting a .114 hitting percentage in the set.

The Bulls’ momentum carried over to the second set as they combined for a match high hitting percentage of .600 and only had one error in the set.

The Huskies played better in the second set, posting .208 hitting percentage.

Buffalo would go on to win the set 25-17 to take a two-set advantage heading into intermission.

In the final set of the match, the Bulls came out firing on all cylinders, posting a hitting percentage of .471 with 11 kills. NIU did not have the same luck and had its worst hitting percentage of the night with .040% and eight errors.

Buffalo went on to win the set 25-15 led by senior outside hitterRachel Sanks who had 13 kills and three service aces in the match. NIU’s top performers were first-year outside hitter Kaitlyn Bell with seven kills and Balensiefer with 23 assists.

Gooden took a lot of the blame for his team not being prepared for Buffalo. Although the Huskies had a next-day turnaround from the Akron game, Gooden said it is his job to remind his team to stay consistent.

“I have to do a better job to get our team ready, that falls on me,” Gooden said. “The ability for our group to stay consistent has always been the [goal] this year.”

NIU’s next match is against the Kent State University Golden Flashes 6 p.m. Friday at Victor E. Court. NIU will then play 7:30 p.m. Saturday against Ohio University at home.

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