MILWAUKEE, Wis. - The Northern Illinois women's volleyball team extended its winning streak to five matches with a 3-0 win at Milwaukee Tuesday night at the Klotsche Center. In a battle of two teams who were preseason picks to win their respective leagues, the Huskies (7-2) reigned supreme over the Panthers (5-2), who NIU is now 14-7-1 against all-time.
"Tonight, we played against a really, really tough Milwaukee team in their home opener," said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. "We knew it was going to be a battle. Milwaukee has always been a good team. We just turned it on at the right times tonight."
NIU came out on top in a tightly-contested first set despite being out hit .277-.236 and having seven attack errors to Milwaukee's three. However, Lauren Wicinski was sharp with nine kills in the stanza to carry the Huskies. With NIU down 24-23, the Panthers failed to put away the set with a long attack. Sarah Angelos turned the table on the next play, putting away a Milwaukee overpass to give NIU a chance at set point. Following an error by Wicinski, the sophomore made up for it by executing a sharp cut shot and a power tip on consecutive plays to give the Huskies a 1-0 lead in the match with a 27-25 win.
The second set was just as competitive until both teams exchanged runs near the end, but it was the Huskies who came out on top after fighting off six Milwaukee set point opportunities. Tied 19-19, the Panthers looked as if they would even the match after using a 5-0 run to set up set point. However, Wicinski delivered another cut shot to force a Milwaukee timeout. Then with Wicinski serving, the Huskies went on a 5-0 run of their own to tie it at 24-24. During the spurt, Wicinski notched an ace while MacKenzie Roddy had a kill and combo-block with Mary Kurisch.
Following a long serve by Wicinski to end the run, Allison McGlaughlin kept the Huskies alive with a crosscourt blast. A Panther kill later, McGlaughlin answered again with her sixth kill of the set. Then NIU grabbed a 27-26 lead after a long attack by Milwaukee. The Panthers erased NIU's first set point with a kill but could not do it again after Angelos' kill set up another chance that resulted in a Panther error into the net, giving the Huskies a 2-0 lead going into the break.
"We were down in the second set and came back with four critical serves to win it," Gooden said. "It was a great team effort. It was good for us to get a good road win against a good team."
In the third set, NIU recovered from a tough start, falling down 9-3 early. After using two timeouts, the Huskies got momentum on their side with a 13-4 run to take a 16-13 lead. Wicinski's three kills and an ace played a large role in recovering from the slow start. From there, NIU held the lead until the Panthers tied it at 22 following a Huskie attack error. The Huskies reclaimed the lead with kills form Angelos and Wicinski but Milwaukee answered with a block and capitalized on another NIU attack error. Then Wicinski ended the contest, 26-24, with back-to-back kills to give NIU its fifth sweep of the season.
Leading the way for NIU was Wicinski, who had 23 kills for her fourth 20-kill effort of the year. She also added 13 digs for her seventh double-double. McGlaughlin also reached double figures in kills with a season-high 17 to go with a team-high .343 hitting percentage. Kristin Hoffman had a season-high as well with 52 assists.
Defensively, Amber Walker tallied a career-best 21 digs, including 10 in the first set.
On deck for the Huskie is a trip to Texas for three matches. First up is a 7:00 p.m. CT tilt against Lamar in Beaumont, Texas, on Thursday, September 8. Then on Saturday, September 10, NIU takes on Texas A&M at 11:00 a.m. and Stephen F. Austin at 6:00 p.m. at the Stephen F. Austin Invitational in Nacogdoches, Texas.