DeKALB, Ill. - In a tussle for sole possession of first place in the Mid-American Conference West Division, it was Western Michigan who proved to be the better team Thursday night at Victor E. Court after defeating Northern Illinois in three close, hard-fought sets, 25-23, 25-22, 25-21. The loss dropped the Huskies to 12-9, 3-2 in league play, while the Broncos improved to 11-6, 4-1 in conference action.
Both teams entered the match on hot streaks as NIU had won nine of its last 12 and WMU six of its last eight. However, the Broncos were just a little better on offense (.273-.222) and defense (48 digs to NIU's 41).
"Tonight we played against the best team in our conference; Western was the preseason pick to be number one," said NIU Head Coach Ray Gooden. "They do a good job and are well coached. The story of this match is really 10 events throughout the entire three-set match. If we turn a couple of those plays, we'll be OK. For us, we have to learn from this and take this as an experience and understand that if we turn those plays the other way like we have been doing the past few matches we'll be on the positive side."
The first set proved to be the difference maker as it gave WMU a 1-0 lead in the match and enough momentum to stay on top of the Huskies in a tough home environment. After NIU fell down 5-2, the Huskies stormed back to take a 15-12 lead following two kills from junior middle blocker Sarah Angelos (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan) and a putaway by sophomore outside hitter MacKenzie Roddy (San Bernardino, Calif./Cajon).
But then two Huskie errors and a WMU ace knotted the match at 15. The teams exchanged points three times before the Broncos grabbed a 20-18 lead following two more NIU errors. Then a slugfest ensued as the teams went back and forth, and NIU tied the match at 23 after a Roddy kill and WMU error. The Huskies couldn't flip the table, though, as Stephenee Yancy delivered a kill to give WMU a chance at set-point and Angelos' slide missed just wide down the line on the next play to end the frame.
In the second set, WMU jumped out to a 17-10 lead, but NIU rallied once again. The Huskies used an 11-2 run to close the deficit to 21-19 after a Roddy ace and WMU setting error. Following a Broncos timeout, though, WMU closed the set with the help of four kills despite three errors of its own.
The third set played out similarly as WMU opened a 17-13 edge. NIU climbed back to make it a 23-21 Broncos lead after kills from Angelos and senior outside Meghan Romo (Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso). With little room for error, Romo missed wide on a cross-courter during the next sequence to set up match-point for the Broncos. It only took WMU one try to end it as Carlee Berland put home a kill to close a run of back-to-back losses to the Huskies in the all-time series.
Roddy led the match with 13 kills and tied a career high with four aces. Angelos was the most efficient with a .368 attacking clip and nine kills. Freshman setter Alexis Gonzalez (Fresno, Calif./Bullard) dished out 32 assists and added an ace.
In the back row, senior libero Amber Walker (Juneau, Alaska/Juneau Douglas/Western Oregon) tallied a match-high 15 digs.
Next up for NIU is a quick trip to Oxford, Ohio to face Miami (Ohio) (5-12, 0-4 MAC) Saturday at 4 PM CT. Live stats and video will be available through MURedHawks.com. The Huskies then return home to host Buffalo and Akron next weekend.