MUNCIE, Ind. - Up 2-1 in the match, the Northern Illinois volleyball team could not hold off a late charge by Ball State on Friday night at Worthen Arena. The Cardinals rallied to win the fourth and fifth sets to improve to 14-2, 3-0 in Mid-American Conference play, and extend their nation's sixth-best home winning streak to 19 matches. NIU's fifth straight loss to BSU dropped the Huskies to 12-5, 1-2 in conference competition.
"Tonight was tough," said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. "All records aside, including their winning streak, we were doing some good things. The first two games were a chess match. They did some things against us that were successful. We did some things against them that were successful. Then in the third set we were really able to take it to them. We put our foot on the gas up until about the 21st point of the fourth set. We gave them a little bit of life, unfortunately. The continued to defend their home court and put pressure on us to go to a fifth set. Then they were able to capitalize on it."
For the first time all season, the Huskies lost a match while outhitting their opponent. NIU held a .258-.218 hitting advantage, but was unable to score the critical points to win the match.
A back and forth first set turned Ball State's way after a 4-1 run gave the Cardinals a 21-17 edge. Out of an NIU timeout, the Huskies closed within two points after a kill from Mary Kurisch and a BSU setting error. However, BSU called a timeout and recovered to close out the set 25-21. A 16-13 kills advantage and .293-.237 hitting differential helped the Cardinals claim a 1-0 match lead.
After a slow start to the second set, the Huskies overcame a 3-0 deficit to take a 12-11 lead after a BSU error. A few plays later, back-to-back aces by Amber Walker put NIU ahead 15-12. Then, a kill from Kurisch, combo block by MacKenzie Roddy and Sarah Angelos, and a Lauren Wicinski kill gave the Huskies a 21-15 lead that NIU turned into a 25-19 win. Similar to what BSU did in the first set, NIU held a 16-13 kills edge and outhit the Cardinals .333-.273 to knot the match at the break.
Riding the momentum from the second set, the Huskies never trailed in the third set. Tied 2-2, NIU opened an 11-6 lead following an Angelos putaway. Out of a BSU timeout, the Huskies extended their lead to 16-8 after an emphatic block by Kurisch and Kristin Hoffman. From there, NIU closed out the set for a 25-11 victory. In taking a 2-1 lead in the contest, NIU racked up a 13-6 kills differential and hit a stellar .571 while the Cardinals were held to a -.071 attack percentage.
Up 20-15 in the fourth set and looking to take the match, the Huskies could not hold off a late surge by Ball State. An 8-3 run by the Cardinals knotted the score at 23-23. Then back-to-back Cardinal kills gave BSU a 25-23 win to force a fifth set. The Cardinals used a .323-.229 hitting advantage to stay alive.
Ball State continued its momentum in the fifth set by jumping out to a 3-1 lead. The Cardinals kept the three-point edge at the switch, 8-5. Then back-to-back blocks gave BSU a 10-5 lead and forced a Huskie timeout. NIU closed within three points following a BSU error, but after a timeout, the Cardinals notched consecutive kills to regain control and finished off the match 15-9.
Wicinski led the Huskies with 25 kills, hitting .345. She also added a team-high 19 digs and three aces. Allison McGlaughlin also reached double figures in kills with 11. Running the offense, Hoffman tied a season high with 49 assists and turned in 11 digs.
Defensively, Walker was one behind Wicinski with 18 digs. Justine Schepler also tallied double digit digs with 13.
"Credit goes to those guys [at Ball State]," Gooden said. "It's really hard to win on the road [in the MAC], as we are learning. I thought we gave them a really good effort but we have to learn to do it all the way through. We need to rebound and regroup fast because we play a really good team in Toledo tomorrow."
The Huskies wrap up their first MAC road weekend tomorrow with a 4:00 p.m. CT contest against Toledo.