CHICAGO - With both teams coming off tough weekends, the Northern Illinois volleyball team was edged by Illinois Chicago in four sets at Flames Athletic Center Tuesday night. The Flames (3-4) were able to take advantage of a 34-22 hitting error edge over NIU (3-5) for a 26-24, 25-13, 20-25, 25-20 win.
"Any time we place somebody from The City or a local school, it's always a big rivalry," said NIU Head Coach Ray Gooden. "A lot of the players know each other. Both teams came out with a determination to get back on track. They had home court and played some pretty good volleyball - kept us on our heels."
Had the first set been different, the outcome could have changed as the Huskies had set point, 24-23, following a solo block by senior middle Mary Kurisch (La Crosse, Wis./West Salem). However, an attack error by sophomore middle Emily Paschke (Winfield, Ill./West Chicago Community) tied the score on the next rally. Then, UIC's Kelsey Safranek took over with back-to-back kills to win the set.
Seizing the momentum, the Flames jumped out to a 7-1 lead in the second set and cruised for a 2-0 lead at the break.
NIU regrouped in the third, though. After an attack error by senior outside hitter Meghan Romo (Valpariaso, Ind./Valparaiso), the veteran fired right back with two kills, sandwiched between a UIC kill, to put the Huskies up 23-20. Then a combo-block by Kurisch and senior middle Sam Grams (Forest Park, Ill./Fenwick) and a Flames attack error forced the fourth set.
Up 17-16 after two straight Romo aces, the Huskies looked poised to force a fifth set. But a long attack error by junior outside hitter Tori Halbur (Omaha, Neb./Millard West) and two Safranek aces gave UIC a 19-17 lead. A Huskie timeout did nothing to stop the Flames as Molly McCoy scored out of the break to help UIC end the match on an 8-3 run.
"We fought back a bit towards the end but it was a bit too late," Gooden said. "We have to keep working on fighting. We are going to do it and get better at it - it's just a little painful right now. We are going to get better at this and make a turn here hopefully before next week."
Romo led the way for NIU with career highs in kills (20) and aces (3), Sophomore outside hitter MacKenzie Roddy (San Bernardino, Calif./Cajon) also reached double figures in kills with 12. Freshman setter Alexis Gonzalez (Fresno, Calif./Bullard) dished out 40 assists, while adding seven digs and three blocks.
In the back row, senior libero Amber Walker (Juneau, Alaska/Juneau Douglas/Western Oregon) notched a season- and game-high 27 digs. Junior defensive specialst Justine Schepler (Sycamore, Ill./Sycamore) tallied double figure digs as well with 10.
Entering the match, the Huskies led the all-time series over UIC 40-25 and had won seven of the last eight matches since 2003. Prior to this evening, the last Flames win over NIU came in Chicago on Sept. 11, 2007, in three sets.
The Huskies are in the middle of a 14-match road trip over a span of only 23 days. Accounting for 42 percent of the schedule, the journey resumes this weekend in Springfield, Mo., at the Missouri State Invitational. NIU will face Nebraska-Omaha at 10 AM CT and New Orleans at 5 PM Friday. The Huskies will close the event against Connecticut at 2:30 PM and Missouri State at 7:30 PM Saturday.