Oct. 30, 2010
MUNCIE, Ind. - The Northern Illinois volleyball team came up short in its attempt to avenge the first Mid-American Conference loss of the season as the Huskies were swept (25-16, 25-16, 25-21) by Ball State at Worthen Arena on Saturday night.
The Cardinals handed NIU its first MAC loss of the season in the league opener on September 24 in five sets. Now, coupled with last night's loss to Toledo, Ball State gave the Huskies their first losses in back-to-back matches, dropping NIU to 13-2 in three-set matches.
"Ball State is playing with a lot of confidence right now and has improved a lot throughout the season," said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. "They play very well at home and have the record to show it."
In an important season-long, five-match road trip, the Huskies stand at 2-2 with one contest remaining. Winners of nine of their last 11 matches, the Huskies entered the trip in first place in the West Division but now stand in a tie for second place with Eastern Michigan. Meanwhile, Ball State moves into sole possession of first place. With four matches remaining over the next two weekends, the Huskies still have an opportunity to win the division and earn a bye in the first round of the MAC Tournament for the second year in a row as one of the top four seeds in the league.
"The standings to me are irrelevant right now as it is," Gooden said. "A couple weeks ago, when we were battling Akron and both of us were 5-1, it made for a compelling sub plot. But on the whole, it was just about what our team needed to do to be successful. The same thing is true for Thursday [against Western Michigan].
"This challenges now to not be the same, both individually and as a group."
For the second match in a row, and the fourth and fifth times, respectively, the conference's top offense was outhit (.366-.151) and outkilled (45-33) by an opponent. NIU's 33 kills tied a season-low. The MAC's leader in points, kills and aces, freshman outside hitter Lauren Wicinski (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) led NIU with 11 kills.
"Ball State did a great job of frustrating us by touching the ball both on the dig and eventually with the stuff block," said Gooden.
NIU stumbled out of the gate as BSU outhit (.297-.111) and outkilled (15-10) the Huskies in the first set. NIU held a slim advantage early, 10-9, but a 7-0 surge by BSU rattled the Huskies to the point where two timeouts could not get them back on track.
The second set was a mirror image for the Huskies, who were outkilled by the same tally and outhit .520-.091. NIU jumped out to a 9-7 lead, but a 10-1 Cardinal run put the Huskies on their heels again. Two timeouts once again proved to make no difference in slowing down the Ball State attack.
The Huskies fought hard in the third set but it was still not enough to overpower Ball State on this night. NIU trailed nearly the whole way, but stayed close. After tying the score, 1-1, on a kill by freshman middle blocker Sarah Angelos (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan), the Cardinals ran off to a 7-3 lead. The Huskies cut the lead to one point on four separate occasions. Down 16-15 after a powerful putaway over BSU's block by sophomore outside hitter Meghan Romo (Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso), NIU would get no closer as the Cardinals scored four straight points to answer. A pair of timeouts later, the Huskies made a late push. Wicinski and sophomore middle blocker Mary Kurisch (La Crosse, Wis./West Salem) teamed for a block to force Ball State into a timeout at 23-20. Wicinski then delivered a kill over a Cardinal block, but BSU capitalized on the next two serves. One was a long serve by junior setter Kristin Hoffman (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) and the other was a Cardinal ace to end the match.
NIU wraps up its road swing at Western Michigan (18-8, 8-4 MAC) on Thursday, November 4th at 6 p.m. (CT). The Huskies then return home for the remaining three MAC matches of the regular season, starting with a Saturday, November 6th contest against Bowling Green (8-19, 2-10 MAC) at 7 p.m.