Aug. 28, 2008
DeKalb, Ill. – The Northern Illinois volleyball team kicks-off its season this weekend as the Huskies host the NIU Invite, starting with their first match of 2008 on Friday at 7 p.m. against in-state rival Chicago State.
Since Huskie head coach Ray Gooden took over in 2002, NIU is 5-1 in home openers and 11-9 in NIU Invites. This year’s NIU Invite marks the third straight season that the Huskies have played their first match at home during an NIU Invite and the team is eager to get the season started.
“It’s nice, and we are very fortunate to be in a position to have teams coming in to face us at home,” Gooden said. “It’s nice to compete against other teams now and even better to do it at home, especially after doing preseason camp since August 9th.
“We are all excited. I think the girls are really excited to play someone else. The coaches are excited to see how we have developed over the last few weeks. It will be nice for our fans to see what our 2008 team looks like.”
According to Gooden, the 2008 Huskies will look to pick up the pace on offense. Leading the way for NIU offensive attack will be senior outside hitter Irene Johnson (Schaumburg, Ill./Schaumburg), junior outside hitter Meagan Schoenrock (Sylvania, Ohio/Northview) and junior setter Amanda Tadla (Oak Lawn, Ill./Oak Lawn).
All three are coming off career-best seasons. Johnson established career-highs in kills (351) and digs (272), and ranked seventh in the Mid-American Conference in kills per game (3.71). Schoenrock, a two-time second-team All-MAC performer, set a career-mark in kills (410) and ranked sixth in the MAC in kills per game (3.72), tallying double-figure kills in 21 of NIU’s 31 matches. Tadla compiled a career-high 78 assists last season in limited action, notching three matches of 20 or more assists.
“We are trying to run our offense with a quicker tempo,” said Gooden. “We want to push the pace offensively; faster than in the past. I think our personnel has allowed us to do that more and our philosophy has been adjusted a bit to do it more consistently. We worked on it a lot this spring. It’s been an evolution; every year our group has gotten a little faster. We are trying to continue that and create new dimensions to our offense to keep our opponents guessing.
“The girls have done a really good job adjusting to it. They are embracing it and understand the importance of it and the benefits.”
NIU will look to push the tempo against Chicago State (Friday at 7 p.m.), Cleveland State (Saturday at 1 p.m.) and Connecticut (Saturday at 7 p.m.) in the Huskies’ three matches this weekend at home on Victor E. Court.
“Energy and consistency will be the keys for us this weekend,” said Gooden. “I think in our first match, the girls will be super-charged to play. Hopefully, they will be able to take that nervous energy into positive energy for our match against Chicago State and then carry it through the weekend.”
Chicago State finished with a 6-25 mark last season and returns only one starter in addition to the libero. The Huskies lead the all-time series, 11-1, with the last match resulting in a Huskie 3-0 win in Chicago last year. Since Gooden has been head coach at NIU, the Huskies are 16-12 versus intrastate opponents.
“Chicago State is a local rival and they will be at their best early in the year,” said Gooden. “It will be important for us to get off to a good start against them and play consistent volleyball at home.”
Cleveland State heads into 2008 after a successful 2007 season that saw the Vikings (23-9) win the Horizon League tournament and make their first NCAA tournament appearance in school history. The Vikings return five starters from that squad, losing only their libero. NIU leads the series, 21-2, and beat CSU in their last meeting, 3-2, at the Virginia Tech Fall Invitational in 2003.
“A lot of the teams we play this year are picked to win their conference,” Gooden said. “Cleveland State is picked to win the Horizon League just coming off their first NCAA tournament appearance and won their conference championship. They return a solid core of last year’s group so that will be a tough match.”
Connecticut tallied a 19-11 mark in 2007, finishing tied for sixth in the Big East. The Huskies return three starters along with their libero. UCONN won the only match they have played against NIU, 3-0, in 2006 at the UCONN Toyota Classic.
“UCONN has their best team since that coaching staff has been there,” Gooden said. “I know they are excited about their group and what they can do. I know they are well coached.
“We have great respect for all three of the teams that are coming in this weekend.”
Listed below is the entire NIU Invite schedule. Live stats and results will be provided for every match on www.niuhuskies.com.
NIU Invite Schedule
Friday, August 29
UCONN vs. Cleveland State @ 5 p.m.
Chicago State vs. NIU @ 7 p.m.
Saturday, August 30
Chicago State vs. UCONN @ 11 a.m.
Cleveland State vs. NIU @ 1 p.m.
Cleveland State vs. Chicago State @ 5 p.m.
UCONN vs. NIU @ 7 p.m.