Oct. 4, 2007
DeKalb, Ill. - After picking up their first Mid-American Conference win, the Northern Illinois volleyball team was able to alleviate some of the pressure due to a 0-3 MAC start. The Huskies (7-11, 1-3) will try to build upon their first MAC win on Friday against Toledo (3-12, 0-4) at 6 p.m. and Saturday against Ball State (3-13, 2-2) at 6 p.m.
"In one regard, that first win helps to get the monkey off our back," said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. "The next question is: can we win back-to-back? That's been our biggest focus. It's been a good week of practice. We've worked really hard, realizing that what we are doing is good, but it's not good enough. We need to continue to make strides."
Last year the Huskies made a huge stride by posting their first win in the 14-year history of Ball State's John E. Worthen Arena, winning 27-30, 30-16, 30-24, 30-25. Picking up NIU's second win at Worthen Arena will be no easy task as BSU has won their last two MAC matches, defeating Toledo and Buffalo. The all-time series between the Huskies and Cardinals is locked at 21-21. The last match between the two was a 3-1 win by NIU in Victor E. Court on October 27, 2006.
"Ball State is probably one of the hottest teams in the MAC right now because they have won their last two matches back-to-back in conference," said Gooden. "Worthen Arena is always a tough place to play. We were fortunate enough last year to make history by winning there for the first time in NIU history. Our goal is to go back there and try to make history again by trying to repeat."
The Cardinals are led by Julie Breivogel, who is averaging 3.00 kills per game in MAC matches with help from Angie Parrell's 9.20 assists per game. On defense, the Cardinals' Alyssa Rio leads the way with 5.50 digs a game.
Freshman Dani D'Ambrose (Addison, Ill. / Addison Trail) leads the Huskie offense in MAC play with 4.67 kills per game along with 4.18 kills from sophomore Meagan Schoenrock (Sylvania, Ohio / Northview) and 3.93 kills from junior Irene Johnson (Schaumburg, Ill. / Schaumburg). The trio of D'Ambrose, Schoenrock and Johnson has stepped up in MAC play and makes NIU the only school in the MAC with three players in the top 10 in kills per game in conference matches.
"We have been talking about getting balance and not being a one or two person show," said Gooden. "It's been nice to see Dani, Irene and Meagan contribute like that."
A key component to the trio's success has been senior setter Mandi Caputo (Chicago, Ill. / Immaculate Heart of Mary / DePaul), who leads the MAC in assists per game with an average of 13.50.
"Mandi's done a good job. It goes both ways where she is finding people in good spots to attack the ball and the hitters are scoring points. They continue to work well together."
The Huskies are also one of two MAC teams (Bowling Green) to have two players in the top 10 in digs for conference matches. Freshman libero Maddie Hughes (St. Charles, Ill. / North) ranks second with 5.69 digs a game and Johnson ranks sixth with an average of 4.73.
"We have stressed our ability to play defense a ton," Gooden said. "It's good for our libero to be in the top group of the MAC. But to have another player, especially an attacker for us, it's a very good thing."
The Huskies will hope to get a bad taste out of their mouth and continue their success against Toledo as they lead the all-time series, 22-7. The last meeting between the two was in the quarterfinals of the 2006 MAC Tournament on November 17 and resulted in a Rocket 3-2 win that put an early end to NIU's MAC West championship season.
The Toledo offense is headed by Shannon Strachan's 3.00 kills per game in conference play and Mallory Ladd, who is averaging 10.87 assists per game. Defensively, the Rockets are led by Lori Ruth's 3.33 digs a game
"Toledo is a team that we are not judging by their record because they are very capable of winning," said Gooden. "They are trying to get their first MAC win. They're a strong team with a very good outside hitter, so we need to do our best to slow her down as well as play consistently on offense."