Oct. 15, 2008
DeKalb, Ill. - With its longest homestand of the year coming to an end this weekend, the Northern Illinois volleyball team looks to capitalize on the home-court advantage that the Huskies have at Victor E. Court, where NIU is 8-2 in 2008. The Huskies will attempt to defend their court against Buffalo (5-15, 0-6) on Friday at 7 p.m. CST and then Akron (7-10, 1-5) on Saturday at 7 p.m.
"The biggest thing for us is really getting back to doing well at things we can control," NIU head coach Ray Gooden said. "It's nice to have a chance to do it at home, but as we continue our conference matches, we need to take care of our side of the court.
"Being at home is one more element that we are more familiar with and it should help us out."
In 10 home matches this year, the Huskies have hit .283 as a team, which is over .50 points higher than their season mark of .230. NIU has also registered nearly one more kill per set at home with an average of 13.81 compared to 12.87 on the year.
One Huskie who has stepped up her play in Mid-American Conference competition and has benefited from the home-court advantage has been junior Cassie Yates (LaPorte, Ind./LaPorte). On the season, she averages 2.07 kills per set with a .299 attack percentage, but since conference matches have started, she has recorded 2.55 kills per set and hit .315. Yates has been even better at home with a .366 hitting percentage and an average of 2.62 kills per set.
"As the year has progressed, Cassie has put herself in a better position to be successful on offense," said Gooden. "Her position coach Michaela [Franklin] has also played a big role in her improvement so far this season."
Junior Meagan Schoenrock (Sylvania, Ohio/Northview) leads the Huskie offense with 4.72 kills per set, which is tops in the MAC and sixth in the country. Freshman Kristin Hoffman (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) paces the offense with MAC sixth-best average of 10.14 assists per set. On defense, sophomore Maddie Hughes (St. Charles, Ill./North) leads the team with 4.77 digs per set, which ranks fourth in the conference.
Buffalo comes to NIU on a six-match losing streak, but has the MAC's hitting percentage leader in Kristin Bignell, who is hitting .332 this season, while also ranking second in blocks with 1.03 per set. Bignell leads the team in kills (2.37 per set) as well. Lindsey Schlegel runs the Buffalo offense with 8.59 assists per set.
"Buffalo has a very strong middle blocker in Bignell," Gooden said. "They are a strong blocking and serving team."
The Huskies lead the all-time series, 10-2, and have won their last five matches against the Bulls. In the last meeting, NIU won, 3-0, in Buffalo, N.Y. on October 10, 2007.
Akron also heads into the weekend on a losing streak as the Zips have dropped their last three matches. However, Akron possesses a defense that ranks second in the league's opponent hitting percentage and blocks as the Zips have limited opponents to a .169 mark, while averaging 2.25 blocks per set. Brionna Patterson leads the Zips with 3.55 kills per set and Kara Smith paces the Akron offense with 10.47 assists per set. Jess Antosz nets one block per set and Jennifer Stewart totals 4.32 digs per set for the Akron defense.
"When they are in system, Akron runs a very impressive offense," said Gooden. "I respect their coaching staff a ton. Akron has always had a defensive mind set, but without a doubt, their kids have stepped it up a level. Winning long rallies in that match will be key for us."
NIU leads the series versus Akron, 15-8, and has won its last four matches against the Zips. The last time the two teams met, the Huskies took the match in three sets on October 12, 2007 in Akron, Ohio.
Following this weekend's matches, NIU travels to Ohio (11-6, 4-2) and Kent State (12-7, 2-4) next weekend for a pair of MAC matches. The Huskies will face the Bobcats in Athens, Ohio on Friday at 6 p.m. and the Golden Flashes on Saturday at 4 p.m.