Final: NIU 3, UCONN 1
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - The Northern Illinois volleyball team improved to 3-0 at Missouri State's Dr. Mary Jo Wynn/DoubleTree Hotel Invitational Saturday afternoon after taking down Connecticut in four sets at Hammons Student Center. The 25-17, 24-26, 25-20, 25-23 win moved NIU to 6-5 on the year and dropped UCONN to 6-5.
"I'm really happy about the positive play we've had over the past couple of matches," said NIU Head Coach Ray Gooden. "We keep getting a little more experience for conference play. We had to play hard against a very solid team from the Big East."
In a battle of the Huskies, it was Northern Illinois who reigned supreme, holding key advantages in kills (65-54), hitting percentage (.298-.171), digs (89-78) and blocks (13.5-7).
"We want to continue to do a good job with serve and pass," Gooden said. "We also want to do a really good job with our offense. By getting a lot of digs we did that today. Amber [Walker] and our bumpers did a good job of playing defense."
For the second straight match, junior middle blocker Sarah Angelos (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan) was errorless as she taliled 15 kills and hit .517, while continuing to develop a better feel for freshman setter Alexis Gonzalez (Fresno, Calif./Bullard).
"It's great that Sarah and Pookie [Alexis Gonzalez] continue to work through their relationship," Gooden said. "Sarah has learned a lot about herself, as have all of our hitters. We are starting to get a little more rhythm, which is a nice positive."
Angelos was not alone in having a solid performance against UCONN as senior outside Meghan Romo (Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso), senior middle Mary Kurisch (La Crosse, Wis./West Salem) and sophomore outside MacKenzie Roddy (San Bernardino, Calif./Cajon) all turned in helpful efforts. Romo notched 13 kills, 12 digs and four blocks. Kurisch went off for a career-best 10 blocks while also hitting .323 with 15 kills. Roddy hit .318 with 16 kills and four blocks.
Running the offense, Gonzalez served up a season-high 55 assists, adding 16 digs, two kills and two blocks.
In the back row, senior libero Amber Walker (Juneau, Alaska/Juneau Douglas/Western Oregon) dug up 28 balls. Senior defensive speciaist Sue Hayes (Evergreen Park, Ill./Mother McAuley) had 12 digs and junior defensive specialist Justine Schepler (Sycamore, Ill./Sycamore) had 11.
Tied at 14 in the first set, a UCONN attack error and Roddy-Kurisch combo block fueled NIU to a 11-3 run to end the frame with a win. In the second set, UCONN had set point, up 24-23, but an attack error kept NIU alive and Kurisch knotted it with a kill on the next play. However, a UCONN kill and NIU handling error gave the set to UCONN to leave the match tied at the break.
In the important swing set, the senior duo of Romo and Kurisch took over at the end of the third. Tied at 20, Romo notched a kill to break it and then Kurisch followed with two straight putaways. Then the two teamed up for a block before Kurisch ended the set with another kill.
In the fourth set, NIU held a narrow, late 23-21 lead as Roddy put pressure on UCONN with a kill to give NIU match point. After a UCONN kill and Roddy attack error, UCONN failed to take advantage as another attack error ended the match in NIU's favor.
NIU will close out the invite tonight at 7:30 PM CT against Missouri State. The match will feature live stats and paid streaming video.