The Opening Serve
The Huskies close their longest home stand of the season against the three-time defending Mid-American Conference West Division champion Western Michigan Broncos. NIU is 4-2 on the home stretch, locking up a positive record already, and is looking to do even better against one of the league's most consistently strong teams.
The Huskies are coming off a MAC opening weekend split as they lost a five-set heartbreaker to Ball State on Friday but rebounded to sweep Toledo on Saturday. In the two matches, NIU combined to significantly out-hit (.262-.160), out-serve (17-9), out-block (18-8), and out-score (134-112) its opponents. Winners of four of their last five matches, the Huskies will seek to keep those trends going against the Broncos.
Western Michigan comes to DeKalb after a pair of sweeps over Toledo on Friday and Ball State on Saturday to kick off league play successfully at home. The Broncos held similar advantages over the common foes by bettering BSU and UT in kills (98-86), hitting percentage (.286-.161), digs (137-129), blocks (13-3), and points (114-93). WMU is currently on a five-match winning streak.
In addition to featuring a pair of the best records in the MAC, the match-up also highlights two of the top statistical teams in the league. NIU ranks at the top of the MAC in hitting percentage (.279), while WMU is fourth (.229). The Huskies and Broncos rank No 1. and No. 2, respectively, in kills (14.04/set, 13.71/set) and assists (12.93/set, 12.88/set). Both teams are also close in blocks and opponent hitting percentage. WMU ranks seventh in blocks (1.85/set) and NIU is eighth (1.79/set). The Huskies stand in fifth in opponent hitting percentage (.162) and the Broncos are seventh (.180). The two largest differences are in aces and digs. NIU leads the conference in aces (2.12/set) and WMU ranks last (1.02/set). The Broncos are first in the league in digs (18.25/set) and the Huskies rank seventh (14.09/set).
The All-Time Series
WMU leads the all-time series 29-15, and has won each of the last seven meetings, including a pair of four-set wins last season.
Meet The Broncos
The Broncos are led by sophomore middle blocker Jessica Brown, who ranks sixth in the MAC in hitting percentage (.344) and kills (3.44/set). Brown is coming off a MAC West Offensive Player of the Week award selection. Junior setter Sam Viox runs the offense with a league-best average of 11.60 assists per set. Junior middle blocker Ashley Turnage ranks sixth in the conference with 1.00 blocks per set. Freshman libero Lena Oliver ranks second in the MAC with 5.17 digs per set.
Last Meeting Against The Broncos
The Northern Illinois volleyball team fell to Western Michigan in four sets on Nov. 5, 2009 at University Arena in a league match despite the fact that the Huskies out-killed the Broncos 64-56 and out-hit them .233 to .208.
NIU jumped out to a fast start by claiming a 25-16 win in the first set, as the Huskies scored the first six points of the match and never looked back in the initial stanza.
In the second set, Western Michigan got off to a quick start, opening a 6-1 lead after a Huskie attack error. NIU would later tie it, 7-7, and remained close throughout the entire set, but the Broncos were still able to finish the set. With the score in favor of WMU, 20-19, the Broncos ran off four straight points to help them hold off a late surge by NIU and even the match after a 25-22 win.
In the pivotal swing set, the Huskies once again had a nice start, as they scored the first four points and held that lead until WMU went on a furious run with NIU ahead, 22-18. Ashley Turnage started the run with a kill and Jessica Brown followed with a kill of her own. Then back-to-back attack errors by Meagan Schoenrock and Allison McGlaughlin knotted the game and forced NIU to take a timeout.
After the break, Schoenrock put the Huskies up 23-22 with a kill, but WMU's Katie Eberling matched with two straight kills. Then Allyson Doyle notched an ace on the next play to give the Broncos the 25-23 win, and a 2-1 advantage in the match.
The Huskies then recovered from a 12-6 deficit in the fourth set to tie the score, 18-18, after a Bronco serve error, but could not get over the hump, as WMU ended the set, 25-20, on a 7-2 run.
Kristin Hoffman led NIU with 52 assists, 15 digs, six kills and an ace. Schoenrock totaled a team-high 20 kills and McGlaughlin had 17, along with 20 digs.
On defense, Maddie Hughes led the Huskies with 29 digs, while Sue Hayes had 11.
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 and daughter of two former Huskie student-athletes 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 named MVP of the UIC Invitational. As of September 27, she leads the MAC in points (5.69/set), kills (4.68/set), and aces (0.74/set), and ranks eighth in hitting percentage (.309). Additionally, as of September 27, she ranks third in the nation in aces and 10th in kills, leading all freshmen in both categories.
Wicinski's mother, Gina (Graf), was an impact outside hitter for the NIU volleyball team from 1983-87 and ranks in the program's top 15 for career aces (165, fourth), kills (1,328, sixth), points (1,641.5, seventh), solo blocks (66, 11th), and digs (1,019, 12th). Her father, Rob, was a linebacker on the Huskie football team from 1981-85 and has a ring on his finger from NIU's 1983 California Bowl win.
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 underclassmen quadruplet of Kurisch, sophomore outside hitter Meghan Romo (Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso), Wicinski and freshman middle blocker Sarah Angelos (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan) have combined to make up over 70 percent of NIU's total kills (75%), blocks (79%), and points (72%). Wicinski and Romo alone make up 44 percent of NIU's total aces.
The Victor E. Court Advantage
The Huskies are 84-50 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. In that same span, Northern Illinois also owns a 37-30 home advantage over MAC foes. The Huskies are 9-2 at home this season.
Since 2002, NIU is 30-14 against intrastate opponents. The Huskies are 4-0 against Illinois opponents this season.
NCAA Leaders (As of September 27)
NIU ranks third in the nation in aces (2.12/set), 15th in winning percentage (.882), 16th in hitting percentage (.279), 25th in kills (14.04), and 31st in assists (12.93/set).
In addition to Wicinski's national presence, the Huskies feature three other players high in the national rankings. Junior setter Kristin Hoffman (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) ranks 26th in assists (11.00/set). Freshman middle blocker Sarah Angelos (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan) ranks 44th in hitting percentage (.372), while Kurisch ranks 84th in hitting percentage (.347).
MAC Leaders (As of September 27)
On top of Wicinski's league-leading status, Angelos, Hoffman, Kurisch, and Hughes all rank in the league's top 10 in several statistical categories. Angelos ranks second in hitting percentage, while Kurisch is third, and ranks eighth in blocks (0.95/set). Hoffman ranks second in assists. Hughes ranks fifth in digs (4.14/set).
Hoffman has piled up at least 30 assists in each of the last three matches.
Romo has totaled two or more blocks in four straight matches.
Kurisch has tallied one or more blocks in all 17 matches and has a streak of five in a row with at least two blocks.
Wicinski has registered double-figures in points in every match. She has also had 16 straight matches with double-figure kills and has served up an ace in four straight.
Hughes has reached double figures in digs in each of her last four matches.
With the stellar start to the 2010 campaign, ninth-year head coach Ray Gooden moved into second place on the program's all-time win list after claiming first place at the NIU Invitational with a win over College of Charleston on Aug. 28. His career record now stands at 144-123. Additionally, 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).
The Huskies hit the road for the first time in MAC play by traveling to Oxford, Ohio to face Miami (Ohio) on Sunday, Oct. 3, at 1:30 p.m. CT. NIU is 2-0 on the road and 1-0 on Sundays this season.