Aug. 10, 2007
DeKalb, Ill. - The Northern Illinois Huskie volleyball team heads into the 2007 season on a wave of success after going 13-3 in the Mid-American Conference last year and taking home the MAC West Division title while finishing 20-9 overall. However, they are going to have to pull together as a team to make up for the loss of seniors Kate McCullagh (Woodstock, Ill./Woodstock) and Gina Guide (Orland Park, Ill./Sandburg), who both graduated after having very successful careers at NIU.
McCullagh was named MAC Player of the Year and was an Honorable Mention AVCA All-American last year. Guide was regarded among the best liberos in the country and buried every NIU school-record for digs. McCullagh and Guide leave two big holes to fill, but if there is one man who can provide the fill, it's NIU head coach and 2006 MAC Co-Coach of the Year Ray Gooden, who enters his sixth year at the helm of the Huskies program in 2007.
"Our whole team is going to have to step up offensively to balance out the offense that Kate had," said Gooden. "Our whole team is going to have to step up defensively to balance out the number of digs that Gina had. We talked about that in the spring. As soon as we had our last match against Toledo, we knew that those two were gone. We are going to have to have better balance if we want to become a better team. As a group we are trying to get better at that."
Not only do Gooden and the Huskies have to replace McCullagh and Guide, they also have to deal with the pressure and the target on their back from winning the MAC West Division in 2006. NIU won't be able to sneak up on anyone this year, but Gooden isn't worried about any added pressure.
"I don't think we are approaching it as pressure," Gooden commented. "I think every year has its own uniqueness. We're just trying to defend Northern Illinois volleyball. We always have been. We were fortunate last year to be the champs, but we also know how difficult it is to repeat that, especially in the West. We're trying to attack it from the stand point of trying to be as good as we possibly can be this year."
With the season rapidly approaching, the Huskies have started preseason practices. NIU returns a solid crew that features two seniors, four juniors, six sophomores, and two freshmen.
"Everybody is excited to see each other again," Gooden said. "We're excited to get back in the gym. We're fortunate to have a good core returning. We're getting our new players used to everything. It's coming along. We're nowhere near where we need to be, yet, but we are making positive steps every day."
The Huskies will continue to work and prepare for the 2007 season as they are hosting the NIU Invitational at Victor E. Court in just two weeks. Their first match is Friday, August 24 at 7 p.m. versus Western Illinois.