The Opening Serve
Riding a three-match winning streak, NIU begins the all-important Mid-American Conference schedule this weekend with a pair of home matches against fellow West Division teams Ball State and Toledo. The 16-match league slate is split in half with eight home and road contests. Much like the Huskies began the season, they will start conference play with three consecutive matches at Victor E. Court, where NIU is a stellar 8-1 this season. Under ninth-year head coach Ray Gooden, the Huskies are 36-29 versus MAC opponents at “The Dog House” and 83-49 overall.
NIU heads into the league schedule on the heels of three straight three-set victories at home. Last weekend, the Huskies took down Youngstown State and Iowa. Then, on Tuesday, they handled DePaul to achieve their second winning streak of the season. During the streak, NIU has owned a 134-81 kills edge, .265-.094 advantage in hitting percentage, and has been better than its opponents in assists (124-75), aces (10-5), digs (133-119), and blocks (18-10). The favorable Huskie stat splits at home this season: Kills (428-302), hitting percentage (.279-.153), assists (398-284), aces (54-18), digs (429-359), and blocks (56-44). The NIU overall splits: Kills (701-495), hitting percentage (.282-.158), assists (644-468), aces (104-35), digs (697-579), and blocks (84-69.5).
Ball State enters the weekend fresh from no midweek match. The Cardinals last played on Saturday, Sept. 18, when they swept Temple and won a five-setter over Appalachian State at the Tar Heel Classic in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Toledo comes to DeKalb having played just one match since Sept. 13, which was a 3-0 loss at home to Michigan State on Friday, Sept. 17.
The All-Time Series
NIU possesses a 25-24 advantage over Ball State in the all-time tilt, but the Cardinals won both contests last season in three sets. However, of the last nine meetings, the Huskies have won six.
Toledo and NIU split their matches last season, but the Huskies hold a 27-8 lead in the all-time series. Each team defended its home court as the Rockets took the first meeting, 3-2, on Sept. 26 in Toledo, Ohio, and NIU swept UT on Oct. 30 at Victor E. Court. In the last nine matches against the Rockets, the Huskies have come out winners seven times.
Meet The Cardinals
Ball State finished its 2010 regular season non-conference schedule with a 10-2 record, which is the best non-conference record for BSU since league play began in 1983. Junior middle blocker Kelsey Brandl leads the team in kills per set (3.07), hitting percentage (.321) and blocks per set (0.93). Freshmen outside hitters Kylee Baker and Whitney Heeres rank second (3.05) and third (2.69), respectively, on the team in kill per set. Baker also leads the squad in aces (15) and ranks second in digs per set (2.60). In the backcourt, senior libero Alyssa Rio leads the MAC and ranks 13th nationally with her 5.52 digs per set. As a team, the Cardinals are out-hitting their opponents .207 to .136 on the year, while holding a 13.40 to 10.81 advantage in kills per set.
Last Meeting Against The Cardinals
The Northern Illinois women's volleyball team was swept by Ball State on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2009 at Victor E. Court, 25-22, 29-27, 25-19, as the Cardinals spoiled the Huskies' "Senior/Alumni Night" by out-hitting NIU .265 to .174 and out-blocking the Huskies 10-2 to earn the Mid-American Conference match win.
The Cardinals never really let NIU get going at any point in the match. After dropping a close first set, the Huskies came up just short again in the second set. With a 24-23 lead after a kill from Allison McGlaughlin, NIU could not close the set as BSU's Brittany McGinnis tallied a kill to knot the score. Following another McGlaughlin kill, BSU's Alyssa Rio made a diving dig on McGlaughlin's serve to avoid losing the set and then the Cardinals turned that into a point after Julie Breivogel notched a kill to end the sequence. The teams then exchanged points before another Breivogel kill gave BSU an opportunity for set-point and the Cardinals cashed in on an attack error by Meagan Schoenrock.
Then in the third set with the score in favor of Ball State, 10-9, the Cardinals went on an 11-6 run to open up a 21-15 lead that helped them finish off the Huskies in three sets at home for only the second time this season.
McGlaughlin led the way for NIU with 14 digs and 12 kills for her 11th double-double of the year. Schoenrock also reached double-figures with 11 kills. Additionally, Kristin Hoffman totaled 23 assists and Maddie Hughes had 12 digs.
Meet The Rockets
Junior outside hitter Amber DeWeerdt is leading the Rockets and is eighth in the conference with 3.17 kills per set and also ranks second on the team with 3.17 digs per set. Freshman middle blocker Dakota Harkins and freshman outside hitter Lauren Rafdal also have made solid contributions in their rookie campaigns. Harkins leads UT with a .265 attack percentage and is averaging 0.73 blocks per set, while Rafdal is averaging 2.23 kills per set and 0.74 digs per set. Junior setter Kassie Kadera is quarterbacking Toledo's offense and ranks fifth in the MAC with 10.20 assists per set.
Last Meeting Against The Rockets
After losing to Toledo in five sets on the road on Sept. 26, the Northern Illinois volleyball team returned the favor at Victor E. Court on Friday night by sweeping the Rockets, 25-18, 25-22, 25-18, as the Huskies out-killed the Rockets 49-36 and out-hit them .306 to .226 to earn their second straight three-set win at home in a Mid-American Conference match.
NIU led Toledo for the entire first two sets and held the momentum for nearly the whole match. The only times that the Rockets had leads were early in the third set when they led 1-0, 5-4, and 6-5, but the Huskies kept attacking and went on a 10-3 run to open a 15-9 lead that helped ensure their seventh victory in their last eight matches.
Meagan Schoenrock led NIU with 14 kills, but it was Mary Kurisch who was most efficient as she had nine kills on 11 swings with no errors for an astounding season-best .818 attack percentage.
Kristin Hoffman and Allison McGlaughlin also had solid performances in NIU's ninth home win in 13 tries. Hoffman tallied 40 assists, five digs and three kills, while McGlaughlin had 12 digs and nine kills.
Maddie Hughes led the defense with 15 digs for her 17th straight match with double-figure digs.
With an 11-0 run to start the season, NIU established its best start in program history and longest winning streak since 2001. In that stretch, the Huskies claimed first place at three tournaments (NIU Invitational, UIC Invitational, Elon Classic) over the course of the first three weekends. Of the 37 sets during the streak, NIU was victorious in 33, winning eight three-set matches, two four-setters, and one five-setter. Statistically, the Huskies held an edge in all 11 matches over their foes in hitting percentage (.297-.160), kills (533-371), digs (531-423), and aces (93-24).
NIU’s 14-1 non-conference run also marked the best pre-conference play stretch in school history.
The 3-0 Sept. 14 loss to undefeated Wisconsin ended NIU’s 11-0 run in front of a sold out Victor E. Court crowd of 954, with some being standing-room-only. That number set a new attendance record at Victor E. Court and was the first time it had been sold out in its nine-year history.
Big Ten Breakthrough
Just five days after falling to the Big Ten’s Badgers, NIU swept Iowa on Sept. 19 to give Gooden his first triumph over a Big Ten team, and the program’s first such win since 2001.
All-Tournament, All The Time
In winning three straight tournaments in as many weekends to kick off the 2010 campaign, several Huskies have taken home all-tournament honors. At the NIU Invitational, senior libero Maddie Hughes (St. Charles, Ill./North), sophomore middle blocker Mary Kurisch (LaCrosse, Wis./West Salem), and freshman outside hitter Lauren Wicinski (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) were honored. Wicinski then took the MVP of the UIC Invitational as Hughes was again recognized for her outstanding play. At the Elon Classic from September 10-11, Hoffman claimed the MVP, while Kurisch and Wicinski garnered all-tournament nods once again.
Living Up To The Hype: The Wiz Kid
The first high school All-American to join the NIU volleyball program has lived up to the hype thus far. In her first weekend of collegiate competition, Wicinski took home the Mid-American Conference West Division Offensive Player of the Week award on August 30. She then won the award again on Monday. She has also made three all-tournament teams, including being MVP of the UIC Invitational. As of September 20, she leads the MAC in points (5.43/set) and aces (0.76/set), ranks second in kills (4.41/set). Additionally, as of September 20, she ranks fifth in the nation in aces (0.76/set), sixth in points (5.46/set), and 15th in kills (4.43/set).
MAC Player of the Week x2
In her first weekend of collegiate competition, Wicinski took home the Mid-American Conference West Division Offensive Player of the Week award on August 30. Wicinski led the team with 86.5 points (5.77/set), 63 kills (4.20/set), and a whopping 18 aces (1.20/set) as she helped the Huskies go 4-0 to win the NIU Invitational, earning an all-tournament selection. She also hit .274, with four assists, eight blocks, 34 digs (2.27/set), had only two errors in 55 reception attempts, and notched two double-doubles. In a sweep of Chicago State, she hit .500 with nine kills, six aces, and three blocks for 17.5 points. In a four-set win over Oakland, she had 17 kills, 14 digs, two aces, and one block for 19.5 points. In a sweep of South Dakota, she totaled 15 kills with a .345 attack percentage, five aces, and two blocks for 21.5 points. In a five-set win over 2009 NCAA Tournament qualifier College of Charleston, she tallied 22 kills, 15 digs, five aces, and two blocks for 28 points.
Three weekends later, Wicinski netted her second MAC West Division Offensive Player of the Week award on September 20. She registered a team-high 42 kills (4.67/set) to lead NIU to a 2-1 record during the week. She tallied double-figure kills in all three matches and has done so in 13 straight, while leading the team in points with 45.5 (5.06/set). Against Wisconsin, she put up 15 kills and a .294 attack percentage. In a 3-0 win over Youngstown State, she notched 15 kills and a .310 attack percentage. With 12 kills and an ace in a 3-0 win over Iowa, she led the Huskies to their first win over a Big Ten opponent since 2001.
The Victor E. Court Advantage
The Huskies are 83-49 at Victor E. Court and 8-1 in home and season openers since 2002. In those nine seasons, NIU has finished with a home record above .500 eight times. The Huskies are 8-1 at home this season.
Since 2002, NIU is 30-14 against intrastate opponents.
NCAA Leaders (As of September 20)
NIU ranks fourth in the nation in aces (2.20/set), 13th in winning percentage (.929), 16th in hitting percentage (.282), 25th in kills (14.09), and 31st in assists (12.96/set).
Wicinski ranks fifth in the nation in aces (0.76/set), sixth in points (5.46/set), and 15th in kills (4.43/set).
Junior setter Kristin Hoffman (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) ranks 29th in assists (10.95/set).
Freshman middle blocker Sarah Angelos (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan) ranks 32nd in hitting percentage (.393), while sophomore middle blocker Mary Kurisch (LaCrosse, Wis./West Salem) ranks 38th in hitting percentage (.389).
MAC Leaders (As of September 20)
NIU leads the Mid-American Conference in team hitting percentage (.297), assists (12.96/set), kills (14.09/set) and aces (2.20/set), while the Huskies rank fifth in opponent hitting percentage (.161), seventh in digs (14.15/set), and ninth in blocks (1.78/set).
Wicinski leads the conference in aces (0.76/set) and points (5.43/set), and is second in kills (4.41/set).
Angelos ranks second in hitting percentage (.393), while Kurisch is third (.389).
Hoffman ranks second in assists (10.95/set).
Senior libero Maddie Hughes (St. Charles, Ill./North) ranks fifth in digs (4.16/set).
Kurisch ranks 10th in blocks (0.95/set).
In each of the last three matches, Hoffman has had at least 20 assists, four digs, and one kill.
Sophomore Meghan Romo (Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso) has hit over .350 in her last three matches, totaling 16 kills on 31 swings with just three errors.
Kurisch has tallied one or more blocks in all 15 matches.
Wicinski has registered double-figures in points in every match. She has also had 14 straight matches with double-figure kills.
With the stellar start to the 2010 campaign, ninth-year head coach Ray Gooden improved his record to 143-122 at NIU, moving into second place on the program’s win list. The 2006 Mid-American Conference Co-Coach of the Year has a 2006 MAC West Division regular season championship under his belt, along with NIU’s first All-American selection (Kate McCullagh, 2006), two MAC Player of the Year selections (Kate McCullagh in 2006, Maddie Hughes in 2009), 14 All-MAC selections, four MAC All-Freshman selections, and nine Academic All-MAC selections.
A Class Above
The NIU volleyball team has held the highest grade-point average of all Huskie sports for each of the last two years and in five of the last six semesters. In the latest academic progress report, the Huskies score of 991 ranks in the top 20 percent of all volleyball teams in the country. With nine Academic All-MAC honorees since 2004, the Huskies have taken home back-to-back American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Team Academic awards for the first time in school history. Additionally, since 2002, the program has had 26 Victory Scholars (3.50+ GPA) and 32 Huskie Scholars (3.00-3.49 GPA).
NIU wraps up its season-long, seven-match home stand on Thursday, Sept. 30, against Western Michigan at 7 p.m.