Oct. 18, 2007
DeKalb, Ill. - After a successful 4-0 road trip over the past two weekends, the Northern Illinois volleyball team finally returns home for a four match homestand over the next two weekends. The Huskies (11-11, 5-3) will play Kent State (15-6, 6-2) on Friday, October 19 at 7 p.m. and CSTV/AVCA #20 Ohio (15-4, 7-1) on Saturday, October 20 at 7 p.m.
NIU's current five match winning streak has propelled the Huskies into second place in the Mid-American Conference West Division behind Western Michigan (16-6, 7-1). NIU has played well on the road all season long, compiling a 6-3 record.
"Anytime we can get wins in the conference that's good," said NIU head coach Ray Gooden. "Anytime you can get wins on the road that's even better. Going 4-0 in that last stretch of road games is a big positive for us."
Even though the Huskies won their last match at home 3-1 over Eastern Michigan, they have not had the same success this season as they have had on the road with a 3-6 record in home matches. However, Gooden looks forward to being back home and hopes to improve the team's performance at Victor E. Court.
"Hopefully, we can play with a little more confidence at home and be more relaxed," said Gooden. "We need to use our home court as an advantage. We haven't really maximized that yet. Our last home match against Eastern Michigan had a good crowd, good energy and we ended up playing a good match. Hopefully, we can build on that going in to this weekend."
The key for success this season has been the Huskie defensive effort. NIU leads the MAC in digs (20.50 per game) and is third in blocks (2.57 per game). The Huskies also rank fourth in opponent hitting percentage (.173).
Individually for the Huskie defense, sophomore Jessica Schultz (Beaver Dam, Wis. / Beaver Dam / Kishwaukee C.C.) ranks third in the MAC with 1.17 blocks per game. Freshman Maddie Hughes (St. Charles, Ill. / North) also ranks third in the conference with 5.36 digs per game.
"We are going to have to win rallies and our defense has helped us do that," Gooden said. "Being able to dig the ball or getting a block helps us stay in rallies. When it comes down to it, we are going to have to win key rallies to win key points and win key games. Our defense has been a positive for us."
The NIU offense is led by sophomore Meagan Schoenrock (Sylvania, Ohio / Northview) and junior Irene Johnson (Schaumburg, Ill. / Schaumburg). Both Schoenrock (4.13) and Johnson (4.04) average just over four kills per game with help from the MAC assists leader senior Mandi Caputo (Chicago, Ill. / Immaculate Heart of Mary / DePaul), who is averaging 12.69 assists per game.
NIU's match against Kent State on Friday will be a match-up of two solid defenses. The Golden Flashes feature a defense that is first in the MAC in opponent hitting percentage (.139) and blocks (2.74 per game). Friday night is also "Business Card Night." Admission will be $1.00 for fans who drop off a business card at the ticket office. NIU leads the all-time series against KSU 20-5 with the last meeting between the two being a 3-1 win for the Huskies in Kent, Ohio on October 20, 2006.
Kent State is led by Ashley Feutz's 3.70 kills per MAC game and Katie Veatch's 7.58 assists per game. The Golden Flashes also feature the fourth best blocker in the conference in Lindsey Daniel's, who averages 1.10 blocks per game. Laura Jensen leads KSU with 5.11 digs a game.
"Kent State has most of their players back from last year," Gooden said. "They have a new coach (Glen Conley) and a new sense of energy. They are playing well with high energy and are a multi-dimensional offensive team."
NIU's match versus #20 Ohio on Saturday will feature the Bobcats' MAC leading offense against the solid Huskie defense. The Bobcats lead the MAC in kills (17.44 per game), hitting percentage (.341) and assists (16.20 per game). Saturday night is also "Youth Night." All youth in eighth grade and below will be admitted into the game for $1.00 and there will be an autograph session following the match. NIU leads the all-time series versus Ohio 12-8 with the last meeting between the two being a 3-1 victory for the Bobcats in Athens, Ohio on October 21, 2006.
Ohio is led by Melissa Griffin, who ranks first in the conference with a .455 hitting percentage and ranks third with 4.48 kills per game. Michelle Jantsch leads the Bobcats with 8.36 assists a game and Stephanie Blackburn averages a team-high 3.48 digs per game.
"Ohio is just Ohio," said Gooden. "They have been the best and have been the conference standard for the past five years. What's not there to say about Ohio right now? They continue to play great and be as dominating as they always have been."