Oct. 15, 2010
DeKALB, Ill. - Extending its winning streak to six matches, the Northern Illinois volleyball team proved that it's the top team in the Mid-American Conference in a tilt between the league's top two teams in the standings. The West Division first place Huskies defeated the East Division first place Akron Zips in four sets, 25-23, 25-17, 24-26, 25-22, at Victor E. Court on Friday night. NIU now stands at 20-2 on the year, which is a mark that has never been reached in the 40-year history of the program.
"Our group had a ton of respect for a quick-paced, defensive, and physical team like Akron," said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. "It was nice to have the sub plot of the two teams that were 5-1 [in league play] going in to the match, but this match was really about the efficiency of both teams."
On this night, the Huskies (20-2, 6-1 MAC) were the more efficient squad. NIU notched 58 kills to Akron's 47, while holding a .272-.160 edge in hitting percentage. An even larger factor was NIU's ability to form productive blocks, which led to a 10-6 blocking advantage and made digging balls easier on the back row with the high amount of touches.
"I think our group has been working so hard over the past couple weeks to touch the ball better on the block," Gooden said. "I thought that really showed tonight. There were very few balls that were swung by Akron that landed in the court without a touch."
Fronting the net for the Huskies was sophomore middle blocker Mary Kurisch (La Crosse, Wis./West Salem), who put up career-high tying seven blocks, marking her fourth consecutive contests with five or more blocks. Freshman outside hitter Lauren Wicinski (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) tallied a season-high tying four blocks, and led the way with 20 kills. The back-to-back winner of the MAC West Offensive Player of the Week award has registered 20 or better kills in three consecutive games. Freshman middle blocker Sarah Angelos (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan) and junior outside hitter Allison McGlaughlin (Morton, Ill./Morton) each had two stuffs apiece.
McGlaughlin was not only solid at the net, she was solid all-around. In one of her best matches of her career, she totaled a season-high 17 kills and a season-high tying 18 digs. Her dig output was the second straight match at 18, while she also added an ace and hit an efficient .452. The double-double was her seventh of the season and fifth in a row, as she is hitting her stride in the heart of conference competition.
"Allison has really found her rhythm," Gooden said. "She was very efficient attacking from the front row and the back row. She was very good defensively, not only with her back row play, but she touched a lot of balls on her blocks."
While she came up with six less digs than McGlaughlin, the star of the back row was senior libero Maddie Hughes (St. Charles, Ill./North). The reigning MAC Defensive Player of the Year continues to show why she holds the title as she has reached double digits in digs in each of her last eight matches, and 17 times overall. The second all-time digs leader at NIU also came through with a team-high three aces. The lone senior played a key role in keeping the team together after nearly letting a 2-0 match lead slip away.
"Maddie continues to do things that sometimes only her teammates, fans, and opponents can appreciate," said Gooden. "Though she might not lead us statistically [all the time], her level of effort and court awareness have been major factors in our success.
"Our group is continuing to learn that MAC match nights are battles from beginning to end. In some of our non-conference matches, once you had a lead of a few points, you had a good chance for a victory. Teams in our league now, you give them a little, they'll take enough. The great thing is that we were able to battle through it and not turn a momentum swing into a negative situation. Maddie was a big part of that."
After taking a seemingly commanding 2-0 edge in the match, the Huskies lost their groove in the third set and the momentum shift nearly forced a fifth set. But the Huskies stayed strong on their home floor to improve to 11-2 at the "Dog House."
Up 11-4 in the third set, NIU looked ready to sweep away the Zips (13-6, 5-2 MAC), but Akron stormed back with an 18-12 run to pull within a point, 23-22, forcing NIU to take a timeout. A Wicinski kill gave NIU a shot at match point, but the Zips answered with a kill. Then, two NIU attack errors with an Akron kill sandwiched between sent the match to a fourth set.
Once again, the Huskies started out nicely, taking a 10-6 lead in the fourth set following consecutive kills by McGlaughlin. Two Zip timeouts later, NIU had a 15-8 lead. Similar to the previous stanza, the Huskies struggled to put away Akron, though. The Zips countered with a 13-6 spurt to knot the score, 21-21. As she had done all night, McGlaughlin stepped up with a putaway to reclaim the lead for NIU. After an Akron error and kill, Wicinski blasted a ball into the Zips' court and teamed with Kurisch on a block to give the Huskies their seventh straight win over the Akron.
The Huskies return to Victor E. Court tomorrow at 7 p.m. CT against Buffalo (14-9, 2-5 MAC), who fell to Western Michigan in three sets on the road tonight. In addition to it being homecoming weekend at NIU, the match will serve as the Huskies' Huskies' annual Pink Match during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, where free pink NIU t-shirts will be given to those who donate $5 to the American Cancer Society. Fans will also have a chance to donate to the ACS through a 50-50 raffle, where half the pot will go to the cancer research organization. Additionally, the Huskies will welcome back several players from the past as Saturday represents Alumni Night as well. The former Huskies will be recognized at the break between the second and third sets. Those who present a ticket stub from Saturday's Buffalo-NIU football game will be admitted into the match for $1.