Huskies Ready to Open 2012 Season Friday with NIU Invitational

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Aug. 22, 2012

DeKALB, Ill. - The Northern Illinois women's volleyball team begins its 2012 season this weekend by hosting the annual NIU Invitational. The three-day event will feature six matches between four teams, three of which participated in the 2011 NCAA Tournament: New Mexico State, North Dakota State (NCAA), Wichita State (NCAA), and host NIU (NCAA).

NIU Invitational Schedule (Home team listed last)
Friday, August 24
Wichita State vs. New Mexico State | 5 PM
North Dakota State vs. Northern Illinois | 7 PM

Saturday, August 25
New Mexico State vs. North Dakota State | 12 PM
Wichita State vs. Northern Illinois | 2 PM
New Mexico State vs. Northern Illinois | 7 PM

Sunday, August 26
North Dakota State vs. Wichita State | 11 AM

How to Follow
All matches will have live stats via GameTracker and all three NIU matches will have streaming video available through Huskie All-Access. All links will be on the NIU volleyball schedule page (http://www.niuhuskies.com/sports/w-volley/sched/niu-w-volley-sched.html).

Tickets
Tickets will be available upon entry to the Convocation Center's Victor E. Court. Adult tickets are $5, youth (17 and under) $3, groups (20 or more) $2, and NIU students who present a valid NIU OneCard can attend for free. For more information contact the NIU Ticket Office at 815-752-6800.

Promotions
Friday's NIU-NDSU match will feature a "We Are Huskies" T-shirt Giveaway to the first 500 fans. Saturday's NIU-WSU and NIU-NMSU matches will feature NIU Faculty-Staff Appreciation Day. All NIU faculty and staff will receive free admission with a valid NIU OneCard.

The 2012 Huskies - Who's Back and Who's New
The last two seasons have seemingly brought NIU Volleyball back to the "glory days" of the 1990s dominant decade (24.5 wins per year, 7 1st place conference finishes, 3 NCAA Tournaments) as the Huskies' 55 wins over the last two seasons were last matched in 1992-93 (62 wins).

With the first Mid-American Conference regular season championship and NCAA Tournament appearance since 2001 last season, 11th-year NIU Head Coach Ray Gooden (184 wins rank 2nd at NIU) and his two new assistants Lynnette Moster and Joe Julkowski will look to keep the upward trend of the program growing while defending its MAC crown and looking to go even further into the postseason.

Who's Back - Three starters - middle blockers Sarah Angelos (Jr.) and Mary Kurisch (Sr.) and defensive specialist Justine Schepler (Jr.) - and libero Amber Walker (Sr.). Angelos and Kurisch were both All-MAC selections in 2011. Also returning are defensive specialist Sue Hayes (Sr.), middle blockers Sam Grams (Sr.) and Emily Paschke (So.), outside hitters Tori Halbur (Jr.), MacKenzie Roddy (So.) and Meghan Romo (Sr.), and setter Kayla Zeno (Jr.). Overall, the Huskies have 71 percent of their blocks, 51 percent of their digs and 43 percent of their kills back.

Who's New - Setter Alexis "Pookie" Gonzalez (Fresno, Calif./Bullard), a 5'9" freshman who earned all-conference honors in her final three prep seasons, and middle blocker Lauren Zielinski (Oak Forest, Ill./Marist), a 6'4" freshman who was a two-time all-conference performer before missing her senior season due to a torn right labrum, and is the tallest Huskie since Kori Schauer (1990-93), who was also listed at 6'4".

Kurisch Named to Preseason All-MAC Team
Voted on by the MAC coaches, senior Mary Kurisch was selected to the 2012 Preseason All-MAC Team on Aug. 22. Starting all 35 matches last season, she was a first team All-MAC and honorable mention Academic All-MAC selection as she set career marks for points (378.5), total blocks (109), digs (80), solo blocks (34), and aces (22). She tallied a hitting percentage of .321 to finish second on team and sixth in the MAC, while compiling 20 matches with 10 or more points for the second straight season. Kurisch enters her final season in a Huskie uniform ranking fourth on the all-time NIU career attack percentage list (.303), 14th in total blocks (288), and 17th in blocks per set (0.81). She has 732 career kills (2.05 per set) and has a chance to become NIU's 19th member of the 1,000 Kill Club as she has tallied over 280 kills in each of the last two seasons.

MAC Coaches Pick NIU to Finish 4th in West
Voted on by the MAC coaches, the Huskies were picked to finish fourth in the MAC West Division. NIU was the league's pick to win the regular season and tournament prior to the 2011 season. This year's favorite in the West and overall is Western Michigan.

Gooden Plenty
Entering his 11th season as NIU head coach, 2011 and 2006 MAC Coach of the Year Ray Gooden is coming off his most successful season as he earned his first regular season MAC championship and NCAA appearance at NIU. The program's second all-time wins leader owns a respectable 184-136 record at NIU, including a 113-91 mark in MAC play and an impressive 113-54 tally at home.

Gooden is in the process of leaving an indelible mark on the program as the top three place holders in kills, kills per set, attack attempts and points all played under Gooden, as well as the top two holders in digs and digs per set.

Additionally, Gooden has coached 22 All-MAC, 16 Academic All-MAC, five MAC All-Freshman and five MAC Player of the Year selections, along with the only seven All-American selections in program history. Five players have also reached the 1,000-kill plateau under Gooden.

NIU Season Openers
NIU is 9-1 in season and home openers under Gooden. The Huskies won last year's opener at the NIU Invitational over IUPUI in four sets on Aug. 26, 2011.

Scouting North Dakota State
NDSU is coming off its fourth straight Summit League title and is the preseason favorite to win No. 5 in a row. The Bison went 26-9 (16-2 Summit) last season to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four seasons. Three starters and the libero are back along with five newcomers as three starters were lost to graduation. NIU and NDSU have never faced each other prior to this season.

Scouting Wichita State
WSU is coming off a 21-11 (13-5 Missouri Valley Conference) season in 2011 as the Shockers made the NCAA Tournament for the fifth straight year and sixth time in the last eight years. WSU has four starters back and received three points in the AVCA Preseason Poll and was picked third in MVC Preseason Poll. NIU owns a 2-1 series advantage over the Shockers as the teams last met in 1996 - NIU won 3-0 in DeKalb on Sept. 6, 1996.

Scouting New Mexico State
NMSU is coming off a 23-10 (10-4 Western Athletic Conference) year in 2011 as the Aggies fell to Hawaii in the WAC championship match. With two starters back, NMSU was picked to win the WAC in the preseason coaches poll. Since 2003, the Aggies have reached the NCAA Tournament five times. NIU and NMSU have never faced each other prior to this season.

Social Central
Follow the Huskies all season long on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/NIUVB) and Twitter (@NIUVOLLEYBALL | @Raygooden_niu).

On Deck
NIU hosts Green Bay at Victor E. Court on Tuesday, Aug. 28, at 7 PM CST before embarking upon a 14-match road trip.

-NIU-