YPSILANTI, Mich. - In a tightly-competitive Mid-American Conference West Division showdown, the Northern Illinois volleyball team came out on top of Eastern Michigan in four sets at the Convocation Center Friday night.
The win for the Huskies (20-5, 9-2 MAC) extended their season-high winning streak to eight matches and marked the fourth time that 10-year Head Coach Ray Gooden has reached the 20-win plateau in a season. The loss for the Eagles (19-7, 7-4 MAC) ended their six-match winning streak and stands as EMU's seventh defeat in its last eight tries against the Huskies.
"Anytime we play a match in conference, it's going to be a battle," said Gooden of his Huskies, who are 9-1 on the road in 2011. "We knew that the matches would be really tough as we moved back into the West Division. Both teams were really edgy and anxious to play. We settled ourselves down [after the first set] and played a really solid level of volleyball."
NIU got off to a slow start in the first set, opening with a 9-5 deficit to handle. The Huskies closed within a point at 9-8 after consecutive EMU errors, but the Eagles used a 5-1 run to take a 14-9 lead. NIU fought back again to pull within two points, 24-22, following a Mary Kurisch (La Crosse, Wis./West Salem) and MacKenzie Roddy (San Bernardino, Calif./Cajon) combo block that forced an EMU timeout. Out of the break, another Eagle error left NIU down by just one point, 24-23. However, EMU responded with a kill on the next play to grab the first set, 25-23.
The Huskies began the second set much better with a 9-3 lead following a Lauren Wicinski (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) ace that forced an EMU timeout. Several plays later, NIU kept the six-point advantage after winning an extended rally on a Roddy kill for an 18-12 lead. Then, the Eagles mounted a 6-3 run to pull within three points, 21-18. Wicinski followed with a kill but the Eagles kept coming and pulled within two points, 23-21, a few plays later. With help from back-to-back kills, though, Wicinski and Kurisch ended the set 25-21 in NIU's favor to even the match at the break.
In the swing set, NIU took a 16-12 lead following a Wicinski ace. But the Eagles did not go away as they went on a 6-1 run to take an 18-17 lead. Out of an NIU timeout, EMU kept its advantage until Wicinski pounded down two straight kills to knot the score, 22-22. The Eagles grabbed another two-point lead but the Huskies responded again with kills from Kurisch and Wicinski. After the teams exchanged points, Roddy put one off a block and Allison McGlaughlin (Morton, Ill./Morton) and Kurisch teamed up for a block to end the set 27-25 and take an important 2-1 match lead.
Continuing the momentum they built, the Huskies grabbed a 9-5 lead in the fourth set, and would go up 17-10 after a Sarah Angelos (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan) kill. However, like they did all night, the Eagles continued to scratch and claw at the NIU lead. EMU cut the deficit to four, 18-14, after a 4-1 run. The teams then went head-to-head exchanging points three times in a row before an EMU error broke the trend, leaving the NIU lead at 23-17. After an NIU error and Eagle ace, McGlaughlin gave NIU a crack at match point. An EMU kill later, Wicinski fired a match-ending crosscourt kill for a 25-20 win, avenging NIU's home 3-1 loss to the Eagles back on Sept. 24.
In improving to 4-2 versus the MAC West, the Huskies possessed positive deficits over EMU in kills (65-57), attack percentage (.253-.184), digs (101-92), and blocks (4-2). NIU's 101 digs were a season-high as five Huskies totaled double digit digs. Amber Walker (Juneau, Alaska/Juneau Douglas/Western Oregon) led the way with a career-high 32. McGlaughlin and Wicinski turned in 19 and 15, respectively. Kristin Hoffman (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) had 12 and Justine Schepler (Sycamore, Ill./Sycamore) totaled 11.
"We did a really good job on defense, especially Amber," said Gooden. "Lauren and Allison did a really good job defensively as well. All in all, it was a great team effort, and it's good to get a win on the road."
Hoffman, McGlaughlin and Wicinski each had double-doubles as well. Hoffman, this week's MAC Scholar Athlete of the Week, captained the offense with 48 digs for her sixth double-double of the year and third in a row. McGlaughlin put up 12 kills for her seventh double-double and moved into fifth place on the NIU all-time kills list (1,344). Wicinski led the team with 21 kills for her 12th double-double.
In the middle, Angelos and Kurisch led the team in efficiency. Angelos registered 11 kills and a .300 hitting percentage. Kurisch did even better with 15 kills and hit .625.
The Huskies wrap up their weekend with a 6 PM CT meeting at Central Michigan (14-8, 7-4 MAC) tomorrow. Live stats and video will be available on CMUChippewas.com.