Sep 6, 2013
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DeKALB, Ill. – The Northern Illinois volleyball team ends their seven-match homestand Saturday when the host #3 USC at 1 p.m. and Belmont at 7 p.m.
The weekend twinbill marks an end to a busy first eight days of the season, as the two contests will be the Huskies’ sixth and seventh matches on the year.
“It’s great for us to be able to host two NCAA Tournament teams, one storied program in Southern Cal and another tournament-tested team in Belmont,” said NIU Head Coach Ray Gooden. “Both are going to provide tremendous challenges for us, but it is going to be great experience for our players. It’s not just one match or the other, it’s really both that we’re going to see two different styles, two different types of programs, but with one goal – to play successful and consistent volleyball.”
NIU got back into the win column Wednesday night with a tough 3-2 win over Western Illinois. The story of the game was the Huskie defense, which racked up 13 team blocks and 77 kills, while forcing 37 WIU errors and holding the Leathernecks to a .108 attack percentage. Four Huskies – Justine Schepler, Mackenzie Roddy, Paige Dacanay and Alexis Gonzalez – all notched double-digit digs on the night.
The Huskies will be facing their two postseason teams from a year ago, as both USC and Belmont ended last season in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. The NIU-USC match will also mark the sixth time in team history that the Huskies have faced a team ranked in the top five of the AVCA Coaches Poll and the first time such a contest will be played in DeKalb.
Southern California enters the weekend with a 3-0 record after defeating Top 25 teams in Purdue and Western Kentucky, along with Alabama A&M, to claim the Purdue Mortar Board Challenge title. The Trojans will play TCU and Marquette Friday in Milwaukee, Wis., before heading to DeKalb Saturday. Statistically, USC is led by freshman Ebony Nwanebu, who has 3.75 kills/set. Additionally, Hannah Schraer averages 1.86 blocks/set and Samantha Bricio has nine service aces. USC and NIU have only met once before, as the Trojans edged the Huskies, 3-2, on Oct. 11, 1986.
Entering Friday, Belmont has a 1-3 record on the year. In their season-opening home tournament, the Bruins went 1-2 with a win against Gardner-Webb and losses to Memphis and Miami (Ohio), then followed that with a 3-1 loss to #16 Western Kentucky. Friday and Saturday morning, Belmont battles Boise State, Columbia and host Northwestern in the Wildcat Classic before their match with the Huskies Saturday night. Jessica Vestal paces the Bruin attack with 3.47 kills/set, while Jamie Lundstrom averages 4.06 digs/set. In the one previous meeting between the Bruins and Huskies in 2005, Belmont emerged with a 3-1 victory in Peoria, Ill.
Through five matches this season, NIU has proven to be quite a strong defensive team. After Wednesday’s win over in-state rival Western Illinois, the Huskies have held the opposition to a .149 attack percentage in 22 sets, along with averaging 14.6 digs/set and 2.8 blocks/set. Each mark ranks sixth or better in the Mid-American Conference through Wednesday’s matches. In fact, only one team has hit higher than .200 against the Huskies, as Ohio State posted a .248 attack percentage against NIU on Aug. 31.
A View to a Kill
This year, the NIU offensive attack has become more diverse, as five different Huskies average at least one kill per set. Leading the way are junior Mackenzie Roddy and senior Sarah Angelos with 3.23 and 2.64 kills/set, respectively. Yet, NIU has been getting solid contributions from Mary Grace Kelly (2.29 kills/set), Jenna Radtke (1.68) and Lauren Zielinski (1.15).
Saturday afternoon’s NIU-USC match will mark the sixth time in program history that the Huskies have faced a team ranked in the top five of the AVCA Coaches Poll. The last time NIU went up against a top five team came during the 1997 NCAA Tournament against #2 Penn State. Saturday will also mark the first time that NIU has played such a program in DeKalb. Previously, the Huskies have battled top five teams in 1984 (#1 Pacific), 1989 (#5 Illinois), 1994 (#5 Ohio State) and earlier in ‘97 (#4 Long Beach State).
Recently, the Huskies have had plenty of success against their rivals within the Land of Lincoln. Following their win over Western Illinois on Sept. 4, NIU holds a 18-3 record against foes from the state of Illinois. In those 21 matches, the Huskies have gone 11-1 in Victor E. Court, with the lone defeat coming against Southern Illinois in the 2009 NIU Invitational. Additionally, 12 of those wins have come in straight sets.
Two Huskies Earn All-NIU Invitational Honors
After going 2-1 and finishing second in the NIU Invitational, Huskie senior Sarah Angelos and junior Mackenzie Roddy were selected to the all-tournament team. In the three matches, Roddy led the Huskies with 46 kills to go along with 40 digs. Meanwhile, Angelos added 35 kills and 10 blocks in the two days of competition.
In his 12th season as NIU head coach, Ray Gooden is now the longest-tenured coach in NIU Volleyball history. A three-time MAC Coach of the Year, Gooden has led the Huskies to three consecutive 20-win seasons and has guided the team to the last three MAC Tournament title matches. The program’s second all-time wins leader owns a respectable 208-152 record at NIU, including a 102-77 mark in MAC play and an impressive 124-60 tally at home. Additionally, Gooden has coached 25 All-MAC, 19 Academic All-MAC, six 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.
Northern Illinois hits the road for the first time in the 2013 season next weekend when they head to Las Cruces, N.M., for the NM State Tournament. While in the Southwest, the Huskies start the tournament Friday against Arkansas-Little Rock at 1:30 p.m. CT, followed by a 6 p.m. CT tilt with Southern Utah. The trip wraps up Saturday afternoon with a contest against the host Aggies at 2 p.m. CT.