DeKALB, Ill. - For just the second time in 10 years, the Northern Illinois volleyball team won its Mid-American Conference opener as the Huskies swept Central Michigan 3-0 on Friday night at Victor E. Court. The win extended NIU's (12-3, 1-0 MAC) winning streak to four while it ended the Chippewas' (7-5, 0-1 MAC) at four.
"Going into tonight, we knew that every match for us, especially in the west, was going to be a war," said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. "Central Michigan always comes to fight. We've had really big battles with them the last three or four matches. Our pins did a really good job again tonight against their big block. Our middles did a really good job of blocking. Kristin [Hoffman] did a good job running the offense. It was another team effort for us."
The Huskies operated smoothly on offense, compiling a .339-.253 hitting advantage, and played tough at the net, totaling an 8-5 blocking edge, to down CMU for their ninth sweep of the year and third in a row.
Lauren Wicinski, the league's kills leader, paced the Huskie attack with 21 kills and a stellar .452 hitting percentage. The reigning MAC Freshman and Player of the Year has now eclipsed the 20-kill mark six times this season. Allison McGlaughlin was nearly as good, hitting .400 with 15 kills. Not far behind was Mary Kurisch, who tallied eight kills and a .385 attack percentage. Running the offense efficiently, Kristin Hoffman, the MAC's assists leader, dished out 41 helpers.
NIU's primary force at the net was Sarah Angelos, who turned in a season-best five blocks. In the back row, Amber Walker led the team with 14 digs.
With the score knotted at 14 in the opening set, four straight Huskie points proved to be the difference. MacKenzie Roddy started the run with a kill, and after a CMU attack error, Wicinski did the same. Out of a Chippewa timeout, McGlaughlin's shot found the floor to give NIU an 18-14 lead en route to a 25-19 win.
Leading nearly the whole way in the second set, the Huskies were not able to shake CMU like they did in the first set. Down by four points four different times, the Chippewas managed to tie the score at 23. The teams then exchanged a pair of kills before putaways from Kurisch and Wicinski gave the Huskies an extended 27-25 set win, and an important 2-0 advantage heading into the break.
Trailing 12-7 in the third stanza, NIU mounted a 10-3 run to grab a 17-15 lead. Three Wicinski kills and a pair of Angelos blocks fueled the spurt. A few plays later, A Wicinski ace and Kurisch block put NIU up 20-16. Following a CMU timeout, the Chippewas used a 6-2 run to tie the score, 22-22. McGlaughlin broke the tie with a kill and Wicinski followed with another to give NIU a chance at match point. A CMU kill forced NIU into a second chance at match point and Wicinski delivered with a soft tip to the middle of the court for a 25-23 win.
"It's great to be 1-0 [in the MAC]," Gooden said. "We will celebrate for a few minutes or an hour or so. Then we get ready for another tough match against Eastern Michigan tomorrow night."
NIU closes out the MAC's opening week with a 7:00 p.m. CT meeting with Eastern Michigan tomorrow.