DeKALB, Ill. - In a defensive struggle, the Northern Illinois women's volleyball team came up short against No. 14 Northern Iowa, 3-0, in the finale of the annual NIU Invitational Saturday evening at Victor E. Court. Both teams hit well under .300 and combined for 49 errors, but it was the Panthers (3-0) who edged the Huskies (2-2) in efficiency as they outhit NIU .246 to .152 to mark the second top 20 team to defeat the Huskies on the day.
A few hours prior to the match, the Huskies fell to No. 18 Iowa State (3-0) in four sets, but played right with both ranked foes despite the outcomes, according to 10th-year head coach Ray Gooden.
"If we look back and reflect on the weekend, we came out 2-2," said Gooden of his team who also picked up two solid wins yesterday against IUPUI and Cincinnati, who received votes in the AVCA Preseason Top 25 Poll. "We did a real nice job on Friday. We had a lot of energy. It gave us a real good place to start from once we get further into our season. We played against some of the top teams in the country. We were able to play with those teams. We know now in order to do that we have to play good, sustained volleyball for a long period of time. We are capable of doing it, but it's one of our missions right now."
With the score tied 14-14 in the first set, UNI 7-3 run to take a 21-17 lead with help from a pair of putaways by Krista DeGeest. The spurt was enough for the Panthers to grab the set 25-21 and take a 1-0 lead in the match.
In the second set, the Panthers broke an 8-8 tie with the aid of five Huskie errors, which gave UNI a comfortable 15-9 lead that the Panthers were able to ride for a 25-20 win.
After the Huskies opened a 6-2 lead in the third set behind two kills from Lauren Wicinski, UNI answered with a 9-3 spurt. Fueled by two kills from UNI's Megan Lehman, the run gave the Panthers an 11-9 lead. The teams then played evenly, going back and forth, until an 18-18 tie was broken by a kill from UNI's Bre Payton and a combo block from Shelby Kintzel and DeGeest. Following a Huskie timeout, Payton served up and ace and the Panthers went up 22-18 after a handling error by Kayla Zeno, which enabled UNI to claim the set and match 25-20.
"I thought we were pretty pumped up to play against a really good Northern Iowa team," Gooden said. "They are a great program and consistently have one of the top teams in the country. We did a really nice in the beginning of going blow for blow with them. But as they proved why they are one of the top teams in the country, they were able to do multiple things for longer periods of time. After a while we weren't able to sustain. A lot of credit goes to Northern Iowa and what they did against us tonight."
For the NIU offense, Wicinski was the only one to reach double digits in kills with 13. She also added 11 digs to net her fourth consecutive double-double of the year. With 76 kills, 45 digs, nine blocks and five aces in four matches, the reigning Mid-American Conference Player and Freshman of the Year was named to the All-Tournament Team.
Sarah Angelos earned a spot on the All-Tournament Team as well. The sophomore totaled 30 kills and six blocks over the weekend.
The Huskies next travel to Green Bay, Wis., to take on UW-Green Bay Tuesday, Aug. 30, at 7:00 p.m. CT.
NIU Invitational All-Tournament Team
UNI: Bre Payton, Krista DeGeest
ISU: Carly Jenson, Kristen Hahn
NIU: Lauren Wicinski, Sarah Angelos
UC: Megan Turner