Oct. 12, 2006
DeKalb, Ill. - Entering this weekend, the Northern Illinois volleyball team holds a two-match lead in the Mid-American West Division, but head coach Ray Gooden and his Huskies will not rest on their laurels as they face both Toledo (Friday) and Ball State (Saturday), beginning a crucial four match-road trip. First serve is set for 6 p.m. (CST) on both nights.
The importance of this road-trip is not lost on Gooden or his squad. But the Huskies are taking one match at a time according to the fifth-year skipper.
"(We're) understanding how to value each match as its own and not just looking at something too far away or too close," Gooden said. "(We're) trying to put it all in perspective as to what needs to happen, one game, one match at a time."
NIU senior middle blocker Kate McCullagh (Woodstock, Ill.) paces the Huskies offensive attack with 5.53 kills-per-game, good for fifth in the NCAA. Joining her among the nation's best is senior libero, Gina Guide (Orland Park, Ill.), who is 11th overall with 6.12 digs-per-game. Last week, Guide broke her own single-match school record with 41 digs against Eastern Michigan. Huskie sophomore setter Mandi Caputo (Chicago, Ill.) has dished out a team-best 773 assists on the campaign.
Although the Rockets (5-14, 2-4 MAC) and Cardinals (6-12, 3-3 MAC) have sub .500 records, Gooden knows that both teams will put up a fight against NIU.
"Our goal is to give our best effort against Toledo and Ball State," Gooden said. "Both teams are capable of playing really good volleyball, especially at home. Both teams are eager to bounce back after tough weekends. We're trying to do our best of keeping up our level of effort against them. It's going to take that kind of effort to be successful."
Toledo, who swept the Huskies last season for just the second time in school-history, is led offensively by senior outside hitter Kate Bean. Bean is tops on the Rockets in both kills (245) and digs (204).
"We need to be consistent against Toledo," Gooden said. "They're a great serving team and can be very physical at times. We just have to work real hard on capitalizing on our opportunities."
Ball State has enjoyed its share of success against the Huskies at home, as the Cardinals have collected nine consecutive wins over NIU at John E. Worthen Arena, dating back to 1997. Cardinals freshman Julie Breivogel currently paces BSU with 3.27 kills-per-game.
"Ball State can usually win a game or two just on their name and their venue alone," Gooden said. "It's just been kind of the mystique of that place. Their team is just real confident in their gym. That's a true home court advantage and we applaud them for having that. Now we just have to go out there with that mindset of playing our best volleyball."