The Opening Serve
On the heels of a highly-successful, but short, cross-divisional home stand that saw Northern Illinois go 2-0 in Mid-American Conference play, the West Division first place Huskies face perhaps the toughest stretch of competition due to a season-long, five-game road trip. The trek starts with two more matches against East Division foes in Kent State and Ohio.
In the midst of their third winning streak of the 2010 campaign, the Huskies’ seven-gamer will be put to test by the East’s second (OU) and third place (KSU) squads, who respectively rank No. 1 (2.50/set) and No. 2 (2.50/set)) in the league in blocks. NIU will look to continue its perfect five-game start on the road against two teams that are a combined 7-6 at home. The Huskies will also be hoping to keep up to astounding records. Their 21-2 overall mark has never been reached in the program’s 40-year history, while the 7-1 MAC start has not happened since 2006.
Kent State returns home after dropping a pair of road matches to Toledo and Ball State last weekend, while Ohio is coming off a road split against the same teams with the win coming over Toledo.
The All-Time Series
The Huskies possess a 23-6 lead over Kent State in the all-time series. NIU has won each of the last three meetings.
The series between NIU and Ohio is tied, 12-12, but the Bobcats have been victorious in 10 straight matches.
Last Meeting Against The Golden Flashes
Outside hitter Meagan Schoenrock dished out 18 kills on a .484 hitting effort and the Huskies out-dug visiting Kent State 47-37, leading to the Northern Illinois volleyball team's convincing three-set sweep (25-22, 25-12 and 30-28) over the Golden Flashes in front of a then-school-record 731 fans at Victor E. Court on October 24, 2009.
The Huskies led by as many as five points in the opening set, and took charge of the frame after breaking an 18-18 tie with a 7-4, set-winning run. Schoenrock had three kills in the stretch, and ended the set with nine kills on just 12 swings (.667 hitting percentage), as the Huskies closed out the frame with a .407 hitting effort. Kristin Hoffman recorded 12 set assists to set the tone for NIU offensively.
NIU never trailed in the second set, jumping out of the gate with a 7-2 lead that forced Kent State (11-13, 4-6 MAC) into an early timeout. The Golden Flashes drew no closer than three points the rest of the way, and Northern Illinois ended the frame on a 9-3 run after KSU trimmed the lead to 16-9. The Huskies recorded a balanced offensive attack in the set, with four players dishing out at least three kills. Schoenrock's five kills led the way, and Meghan Romo had an efficient performance with three kills on just four swings.
The decisive third set was a see-saw affair that featured 10 ties, including six in the final 13 points. Allison McGlaughlin and Romo posted back-to-back kills that broke a 28-28 tie, and clinched the sweep for the Huskies, their sixth three-set win of the season. Schoenrock, McGlaughlin and Romo combined for 12 kills in the frame.
Last Meeting Against The Bobcats
In front of a standing-room-only crowd at Victor E. Court, the Northern Illinois volleyball team came up short of defending Mid-American Conference champion Ohio on October 23, 2009.
The Huskies played the first place Bobcats nearly even in the first two sets, but lost both 25-23.
Megan Schoenrock tallied six kills in the first game alone, hitting .455. As a team, Northern Illinois outhit Ohio .250-.237, and outblocked the Bobcats 5-2 in the opening period.
Things were more even in the second, where NIU's Cassie Yates and Allison McGlaughlin combined for nine kills and a .389 hitting percentage. The Bobcats grabbed their largest lead of the first two sets at 16-12, but after a Huskie timeout, Northern Illinois rallied with a 6-1 run to snatch a one point lead. Ohio countered, but neither team gained more than a one point advantage until the Bobcat's Ellen Herman made the winning kill.
In the third and deciding game, Ohio jumped out to a 5-0 lead, and held off the Huskies, 25-12. But Gooden saw promise from his team's performance in the first two games.
Despite the loss, the Huskies outblocked Ohio 10-7. Schoenrock led NIU with 12 kills, while Yates totaled eight and McGlaughlin racked up seven.
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.
Huskies Help Fight Breast Cancer
In the annual October Pink Match during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Huskies helped Colleges Against Cancer (CAC) reach a donation level that had never before been achieved at an NIU event. While giving away pink Huskie t-shirts on October 16, NIU and CAC gathered over $1,500 in donations. The Huskies then went on to sweep Buffalo as shades of pink were present throughout the crowd and player’s hair ties and shoe laces.
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 September 20, October 4, and October 11. She has also made three all-tournament teams, including being named MVP of the UIC Invitational. As of October 18, she leads the MAC in points (5.82/set), kills (4.90/set), and aces (0.60/set). Additionally, as of October 18, she ranks sixth in nation in points and seventh in aces and kills, leading all freshmen in all three 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.
Third Time’s A Charm, Four’s Another Record
In just a matter of seven weeks, Wicinski has won four MAC West Division Offensive Player of the Week accolades. After claiming the honor for the third time last week, no freshman had ever won the award twice in a season at NIU and no Huskie had ever taken home the honor three times in a career. With her fourth, became the fourth Huskie to garner the award in consecutive weeks.
In her initial weekend as a Huskie, Wicinski took home the award after she 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 the accolade again as 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.
Two weekends after that, Wicinski completed the record-trifecta, sharing the award with Eastern Michigan's Rachel Iaquaniello. Wicinski totaled a team-best 47 kills (4.70/set) and .321 attack percentage, while also adding 18 digs (1.80/set), two aces, and four blocks for 52 points (5.20/set). She notched a season-high 29 kills at home against Western Michigan with a .309 hitting percentage, while also adding 12 digs, three blocks and an ace for her eighth double-double. She hit .342 with 19 kills, one block and an ace versus Miami (Ohio).
A weekend later, Wicinski came up huge in two road wins for Northern Illinois, totaling 59 points (6.56/set), 52 kills (5.78/set), and five aces (0.56/set). She put up 28.5 points, 25 kills, and two aces in a five-set win over preseason MAC West favorite Central Michigan. She then did even better by tallying 30.5 points, 27 kills, and three aces in a four-set win against then-MAC West first place Eastern Michigan, including ending the match with four kills in a row for the Huskies.
The underclassmen quadruplet of sophomore middle blocker Mary Kurisch (LaCrosse, Wis./West Salem), 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 (76%), blocks (81%), and points (73%). Kurisch and Wicinski alone make up 42 percent of NIU’s total aces.
The Victor E. Court Advantage
The Huskies are 87-50 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 38-30 home advantage over MAC foes. The Huskies are 12-2 at home this season.
They Can Play Away From Home, Too
The Huskies have won each of their first five road matches. The feat has not been accomplished by NIU since 1992.
NIU is 4-1 in five-setters thus far. During their current winning streak, the Huskies put together three five-set wins in a row, something that hadn’t been done by NIU since 2006.
Since 2002, NIU is 30-14 against intrastate opponents. The Huskies are 4-0 against Illinois opponents this season.
NCAA Leaders (As of October 18)
NIU ranks sixth in the nation in winning percentage (.913), 15th in aces (1.82/set), 21st in kills (14.12/set), 23rd in hitting percentage (.271), and 27th in assists (13.12/set).
In addition to Wicinski’s national presence, the Huskies feature four other players high in the national rankings. Junior setter Kristin Hoffman (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) ranks 21st in assists (11.25/set). Angelos ranks 72nd in hitting percentage (.345), while Kurisch ranks 114th (.329). Senior libero Maddie Hughes (St. Charles, Ill./North) stands 95th in digs (4.49/set).
MAC Leaders (As of October 18)
NIU ranks at the top of the MAC in hitting percentage, kills, and aces. The Huskies also rank second in assists, fifth in opponent hitting percentage (.175), sixth in digs (14.73/set), and eighth in blocks (1.84/set).
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 as well. Angelos ranks second in hitting percentage, while Kurisch is fourth, and fourth in blocks (1.00/set), too. Hoffman ranks second in assists. Hughes ranks fifth in digs.
Hoffman has piled up over 30 assists in each of the last six matches, including a career-best 67 helpers September 30 in the five-set win at home over Western Michigan. She also has six matches in a row with at least one kill.
Romo has totaled one or more blocks in 10 straight matches, while Angelos has had at least one block in eight straight. Additionally, Kurisch has tallied four-plus blocks in five consecutive.
Wicinski has registered double-figures in points in every match. She has also had 22 straight matches with double-figure kills, including totaling 20 or more in the last four. Additionally, she has had one or more blocks in eight in a row, including four-plus in each of the last two contests.
Hughes has reached double figures in digs in each of her last 10 matches, including 20 or more in her last four of her last six.
Junior outside hitter Allison McGlaughlin (Morton, Ill./Morton) has totaled double figure digs in six straight 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 150-123. 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).
NIU continues its road swing at Toledo and Ball State next weekend with both matches starting at 6 p.m. on Friday, October 29, and Saturday, October 30, respectively.