Nov. 21, 2010
Final Box in PDF Format
TOLEDO, Ohio - In a hard-fought match, the Northern Illinois volleyball team fell to Ohio in the Mid-American Conference Championship on Sunday at SeaGate Centre, 25-21, 26-24, 25-17.
In their best MAC Tournament finish and first title appearance since 2001, the No. 4 seed Huskies battled to the end but struggled to overcome No. 2 seed Ohio's (21-11) blocking as a significant amount of NIU's shots were touched at the net, resulting in a 10-5 blocking advantage for the Bobcats. Ohio also hit .340 with 48 kills, while NIU put together a .157 attack percentage and 38 kills.
"In order for a team to win a championship today, they had to play great," said ninth-year NIU head coach Ray Gooden, who made his deepest run in the MAC Tournament and first career MAC Championship appearance, the school's fourth overall. "Ohio did a great job. We just didn't get the plays we were looking for and got a little tight here and there. We just couldn't do exactly what we wanted to do. I give credit to Ohio for putting pressure on us.
"I am such a small part of this [historical season]. The girls, the staff, [assistant coach] Coley [Pawlikowski] and [assistant coach] Dan [Pawlikowski] have done an amazing job of helping get our program back to a good place. We've had such great history and solid tradition here at NIU. I'm just fortunate to be part of this group and be part of this."
NIU's two all-tournament selections, freshman outside hitter Lauren Wicinski (Geneva, Ill./Geneva H.S.) and senior libero Maddie Hughes (St. Charles, Ill./North), led the way. The MAC's first-ever Freshman and Player of the Year netted 15 kills, giving her 65 kills (5.42/set) for the tournament. The fellow first team All-MAC selection, Hughes, dug up 14 ball to put her tournament total at 70 (5.83/set). 2001 was also the last time NIU notched a pair of all-tournament nods.
"I thought [Lauren and Maddie] had extremely solid performances," Gooden said. "They were really deserving of it. They are the first all-tournament selections in a long time for us. They are both part of the great experience this season. It's great for them to be recognized like this by the conference. The both did a heck of a job."
A back and forth first set saw the Huskies hold the advantage early, but Ohio held it last. Ohio burned a timeout to cut off NIU's momentum, with a 13-11 lead following a blocking error on a swing by sophomore outside hitter Meghan Romo (Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso). The Bobcats bounced back to claim a 20-17 lead but NIU responded with three straight points out of timeout to knot the score, 20-20, following a Lauren Wicinski attack off a block. Ohio countered two plays later with a stuff block to take a 22-20 lead. An ace later, Ohio added another block to complete a 4-0 run that helped secure the set. The biggest factors in the set were Ohio's 5-1 blocking edge and NIU's nine attack errors to OU's five.
In a heated second set, the Huskies once again led early, up 6-2 after a Romo stuff block. But the Bobcats answered to take a 15-13 lead, forcing an NIU timeout. A few plays later, NIU seemed to hit a turning point after a Hughes ace that dropped between two Bobcats tied the score, 17-17, leaving Ohio discombobulated. A pair of Bobcat errors helped NIU claim a 19-18 lead, and a play later, the Huskies looked to be taking command of the set on a wide attack outside the left pin by Ohio. But the officials gathered and ruled the ball in for a momentum-changing Bobcat point. Ohio rallied behind the swing to grab a 23-19 edge. However, three Bobcat errors and a Wicinski ace put NIU back even. The Huskies fought off one set point as Romo blasted a ball off a block, but Ohio took the 2-0 advantage on tip and crosscourt kills. Ohio outhit NIU .301-.146 and had eight blocks and nine attack errors to NIU's two and 15, respectively.
The Huskies and Bobcats battled again the early part of the final stanza, but with an Ohio 4-1 run that broke an 11-11 tie, the match started slipping away. Down 15-12, NIU called a timeout out to try to regroup. However, the Huskies still could not slow down the Bobcats, who increased the lead to 20-14 after a kill from the right side. OU hit .433 and racked up 17 kills, while holding NIU down to 11 kills and a .182 hitting percentage.
With the MAC season complete and a 27-7 record, the most wins for the program since 1998, the Huskies travel to Milwaukee, Wis. to face Marquette on Saturday, Nov. 27, at 4 p.m. (CT) as they await next Sunday's NCAA Tournament selection show to find out their possible postseason future.