Volleyball loses season opening away match to Chicago State

Sophomore setter Grace Balensiefer sets her feet pass the ball during warmups last Friday at the NIU Invitational.

DeKALB — With a 3-1 loss to Chicago State University, the volleyball team has lost its opening away match of the season for the fifth year in a row.

The Huskies came in riding high off wins from two of their last three matches.

Chicago State took control of the match early in the first set, scoring the first four points.

The Cougars’ early lead did not last as the Huskies stormed back to tie at five all.

Down the stretch, the Huskies were able to take the lead 16-12 after a kill by senior middle blocker Brinley Milbrath.

NIU went on to win the set 25-17 led by first-year outside hitters Peyton Tilly and Kaitlyn Bell with four kills.

Sophomore setter Grace Balensiefer anchored the Huskie offense with nine assists and four service aces.

Both teams struggled to find their footing in the second set as both had a hitting percentage lower than .206. Chicago State was able to regroup late to take the second set 26-24.

Junior middle blocker Jasmine Kemp led the way for the Huskies in the second set with one solo block and one kill. 

Both teams came out ready to take control of the match in the third set as they were tied twice early. Chicago State created separation later in the set to take a 14-12 after an attack error by NIU junior middle blocker Kennedy Wallace.

The Cougars went on to take set three 25-17 and were led by junior opposite hitter Kirah Williams-Shephar with five kills.

While the Cougars had one of their better sets, the Huskies had their worst with a negative hitting percentage of -.125.

Head coach Ray Gooden talked about his team’s performance in their first away match.

“Two of those sets were close sets where they were two point sets and we had to win those,” Gooden said. “We weren’t able to capitalize on that.”

The intense action picked back up in the fourth and final set of the match as both teams were tied three times. NIU took an early lead, scoring seven times on the first nine volleys.

The Cougars stormed back to take the lead and the set 25-23.

The Huskies were led by Bell in the fourth set with four kills, and Kemp had a hitting percentage of .455 to end the game.

Balensiefer said she was happy with how the team played but was unsatisfied with the end results.

“I think we could have done more of what we are running in practice,” Balensiefer said. “I think we did really well. We just didn’t put it together at the end.”

NIU’s next match is at 11:30 a.m. Friday against the University of Dayton  at the Frericks Center in Dayton, Ohio as part of the Dayton Invitation.

The Huskies will also face the University of Michigan 4 p.m. Friday and the University of Missouri noon Saturday.