DeKALB, Ill. - In front of a large, boisterous crowd at Victor E. Court Saturday night, the Northern Illinois volleyball team swept Ball State in one of the nation's most highly-anticipated contests of the weekend. The Mid-American Conference West Division win for the Huskies (23-5, 12-2 MAC) ended a five-match losing streak to the Cardinals (22-5, 11-3) and extended NIU's season-long winning streak to 11 matches, tying last season's longest streak.
"The energy tonight was ridiculous," said NIU Head Coach Ray Gooden. "It was similar to last year's Wisconsin match. This match was tabbed as one of the top matches in the county by AVCA (American Volleyball Coaches Association). We had a really good, energetic crowd for both sides. Every play was loud, crazy, fun and intense. It's awesome to play in Victor E. Court when it's like this. It's a great place to play.
"We handled the ball tonight. We did a good job in serve-receive and our middles did a good job of finding space to attack. Our pins did a great job and Kristin [Hoffman] did a good job running the offense. It was a team effort tonight."
The Huskies entered the weekend tied with Western Michigan and one game behind Ball State for first place in the West and the top seed in the MAC Tournament. With NIU's sweep of Toledo and Ball State's loss to WMU last night, and the Huskie victory tonight, NIU and WMU hurdled the Cardinals in the standings.
Prior to this season the Huskies had not won a senior night match since 2007, and 2011 seniors Kristin Hoffman (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) and Allison McGlaughlin (Morton, Ill./Morton) had watched all three losses since then. With their turn to try, the duo locked in after the pregame recognitions and did not waste much time as they led NIU to its 16th sweep of the season in a critical match.
"It was great for our seniors because we've had a run where we've lost the past few senior nights," said Gooden. "So everyone was kind of worried about that. But it wasn't just about senior night. It was about every one pulling together to play as a team against a great Ball State team."
Hoffman put together 44 assists to pace the offense to a .396 hitting percentage, by far and away the highest BSU has allowed all season -- .283 to No. 13 Purdue was the previous high. McGlaughlin turned in nine kills and seven digs.
As a team, the Huskies earned a hard-fought win by edging the Cardinals nearly across the board. NIU held advantages in kills (52-42), hitting percentage (.396-.304), digs (46-37) and blocks (5-2).
NIU jumped out to a fast start in the opening stanza, grabbing a 5-0 lead thanks mostly to three kills and a block from Sarah Angelos (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan). From there, the Huskies had Ball State on its heels the rest of the set and NIU came away with a 25-19 win.
The second and third sets were not as easy as the first for NIU, though. The Huskies narrowly trailed most of the second set and it seemed as if the Cardinals were grabbing momentum. Down 20-16, NIU mounted a 6-2 rally behind a pair of Lauren Wicinski (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) kills and three BSU errors. Two plays later, an ace put NIU down 24-23. Out of a timeout, the Huskies scored on a shot by Angelos and another Cardinal error flipped the tide. Sniffing a 2-0 match advantage, McGlaughlin rose to the occasion with a kill to snatch the second set 26-24.
The third set played out very similarly. Trailing 18-12, NIU stormed back with a 10-4 run that was fueled by three Wicinski kills. After a Ball State timeout, the Cardinals notched a kill to grab a 23-22 lead. McGlaughlin answered once again with a kill and Angelos followed suit in the next sequence. Up 24-23, Justine Schepler (Sycamore, Ill./Sycamore) served up an ace to end the set 25-23 and improve NIU to 11-3 at home.
Individually, Wicinski led the team with 21 kills and hit .486. Angelos was even more efficient with 10 kills and a .562 attack percentage.
In the back row, Amber Walker (Juneau, Alaska/Juneau Douglas/Western Oregon) had a team-high 12 digs. Schepler also reached double figure with 10.
The Huskies finish the MAC regular season next weekend with a pair of road matches. NIU will take on Western Michigan Thursday, Nov. 10, at 6 PM CT. The Broncos defeated Toledo tonight in five sets to stay even with the Huskies for first place in the MAC West Division and the top overall seed in the MAC Tournament. NIU will then end the MAC regular season Saturday, Nov. 12, against Bowling Green at 1 PM.