Aug. 30, 2012
DeKALB, Ill. - Off the heels of a stellar performance in a 3-1 win over Green Bay at home Tuesday, the Northern Illinois volleyball team heads Stockton, Calif., for Pacific's Community Bankers Classic this weekend. During their first West Coast trip since 1997, the Huskies (2-2) will face Nevada (1-2) at 7 PM CT Friday, and Portland State (1-2) at 12 PM and Pacific (3-0) at 9 PM Saturday.
How to Follow
Each match will feature live stats and live video for free on Pacific's Tournament Central webpage.
Gobbling Green Bay
After a successful NIU Invitational last weekend, the Huskies regrouped three days later to take down Green Bay at home in four sets. For the match, the Huskies owned advantages across the board - 57-38 in kills, .344-.146 in attack percentage, 51-35 in assists, 9-3 in aces, 59-47 in digs, and 12-6 in blocks. MacKenzie Roddy led the way with a career-high 19 kills and career-best three aces.
NIU Season Openers
With a 3-2 win over North Dakota State -- a 2011 NCAA Tournament team -- last Friday, NIU improved to 10-1 in season and home openers under Gooden. The Huskies won last year's opener at the NIU Invitational as well, taking down IUPUI in four sets on Aug. 26, 2011.
A Solid Start at the Annual NIU Invitational
Facing competition that has combined to go to the NCAA Tournament 14 times over the last nine years, the Huskies, who made their first NCAA Tournament last year since 2001, held their own at the annual NIU Invitational. The Huskies grinded out a five-set win over North Dakota State behind a 62-53 kills edge and an 88-74 advantage. NIU dropped a heartbreaking five-setter to Wichita State as the Huskies thought they had the match won 20-18 in the fifth set. However, a two-ball call from the down official was not seen by the up official on NIU's 20th point, and after the officials met, WSU was awarded the point. With the wind out of their sails the Huskies couldn't recover, but only an 83-71 digs advantage separated the teams. Barely two hours later, the Huskies took out their frustrations on New Mexico State for a dominant 25-14 first set win, but ran out of gas as the Aggies claimed a four-set win. NMSU won the tourney with a 3-0 record, WSU (1-2) took second, NIU finished third, and NDSU (0-3) was fourth.
Gonzalez, Schepler Earn NIU Invitational All-Tournament Honors
Both freshman setter Alexis Gonzalez and junior defensive specialist Justine Schepler were named to the NIU Invitational All-Tournament Team for their solid play last weekend. "Pookie" Gonzalez showed she could handle running the offense fresh out of high school, averaging 9.21 assists, 2.43 digs, 0.64 kills, 0.36 aces, and 0.36 blocks per set in her first three NIU matches. Schepler averaged a solid 2.93 digs per set and had only one reception error all weekend.
Nevada is off to a 1-2 start following an appearance in last weekend's Baylor tournament. The Wolf Pack opened the season with a 3-2 win over Tulane before falling to Baylor and Texas A&M Corpus Christi, both in four sets. As a team, the Pack are netting 11.23 kills per set and hitting .156. Defensively, Nevada averages 13.38 and 2.58 blocks per set.
NIU and Nevada have met only one other time and the Huskies came out on top in four sets at the Cal State-Northridge Invitational on Oct. 30, 1992.
Scouting Portland State
Portland State has started the season 1-2 after last weekend's showing at Washington's Northwest Challenge. The Vikings fell in five sets to Gonzaga to start the season and bounced back to win a five-setter over Boise State before being swept by Washington. The Vikings are averaging 12.77 kills per set and hitting .203 as a team. PSU's defense has tallied 16.77 digs and 1.23 blocks per set.
NIU and Portland State have never played each other.
Pacific has opened with a perfect 3-0 record after winning last weekend's Idaho Nike Invitational. The Tigers took down host Idaho in the first match of 2012 in five sets, swept Washington State and pulled out another five-setter over Montana. Pacific has totaled 12.46 kills per set and hit .190, while netting 19.00 digs and 2.08 blocks per set.
NIU and Pacific have met just once before and the Tigers won 3-0 in Stockton, Calif., on September 6, 1984.
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 (185 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.
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 186-138 record at NIU, including a 113-91 mark in MAC play and an impressive 115-56 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.
Follow the Huskies all season long on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/NIUVB) and Twitter (@NIUVOLLEYBALL | @Raygooden_niu).
NIU is in the midst of a 14-match road trip over a span of just 23 days. Representing 42 percent of the schedule, the excursion continues Tuesday, Sept. 4, in Chicago as the Huskies will face Illinois Chicago at 7 PM.