The Opening Serve
This weekend presents a rematch of Mid-American Conference opening weekend for the Huskies. This time, however, Northern Illinois will face West Division foes Toledo and Ball State on the road. With victories in nine straight matches, the Huskies will hunt for another win over UT and will seek revenge on BSU, who sits in second place, only one match behind first place NIU. The Cardinals handed NIU its only loss in conference play, and it came at Victor E. Court in front of the Huskie faithful 34 days ago.
Since losing for just the second time all year, the Huskies have won five road matches and four at home during the streak. In that span, NIU has owned an edge over it league opponents in kills (535-464), hitting percentage (.251-.196), assists (506-437), aces (46-36), digs (565-513), blocks (69-64.5), and points (650-564.5). Two more wins would match the Huskies’ longest winning streak of the season, as they won their first 11 matches.
The Huskies are coming off a successful start to their season-long, five-game road trip. NIU took down Kent State last Friday and broke through with a win over Ohio last Saturday for the first time since 2001. Off to the best start in the 40-year history of the program, the pair of wins last weekend put NIU in territory it has never been in before as a member of the MAC -- 9-1 in league play. The triumphs also moved the Huskies to a perfect 7-0 away from Victor E. Court, a feat that has not been accomplished since 1992.
Toledo returns home after a split last weekend. The sixth place Rockets topped Bowling Green before falling to Miami (Ohio). After nine-match losing streak, UT has bounced back to win three of its last five contests.
Ball State enters the weekend after two road wins over Miami and Bowling Green. The Cardinals are on a four-game winning streak and have won seven of their last eight.
The All-Time Series
NIU holds a 28-8 edge in the series against Toledo. The Huskies have won eight of the last 10 contests, including a three-set win this season on September 25.
The series between NIU and BSU is tied, 25-25. Despite a five-set loss this year on September 24, the Huskies have won six of the last 10 meetings.
Last Meeting Against The Rockets
A day after a tough five-set loss to Ball State in the Mid-American Conference opener, the Northern Illinois volleyball team bounced back in a big way on September 25 at Victor E. Court. The Huskies swept Toledo, 25-15, 25-22, 25-19, to split their conference home weekend.
NIU was in control for the entire match, as there were only three lead changes all night. The first two came in the initial set. After the Huskies were up 2-1, Toledo scored on a kill, Huskie attack error, and block. The teams then exchanged points before NIU broke the 4-4 tie with a 9-2 run behind freshman outside hitter Lauren Wicinski's serving. In serving for the whole run, Wicinski put down three aces and made the Rocket back row passers very uncomfortable. With momentum on their side, the Huskies were able easily take the set.
The final lead change happened in the second set. NIU was aced on the first serve but scored three straight points, two from Wicinski kills, to take control again. From there, NIU grabbed a four-point lead three different times but the Rockets hung close, climbing within one point after another ace late in the set. But sophomore outside hitter Meghan Romo answered with a kill to put the Huskies up 23-21. A Toledo kill later, junior outside hitter Allison McGlaughlin fired back with a kill, and an errant Rocket attack gave NIU the 2-0 advantage in the match.
In the final stanza, NIU charged out to a 5-1 lead with help from three Wicinski putaways. Toledo rallied back to knot the score at 12-12 but the Huskies quickly got rolling again with an 8-2 spurt, and didn't look back. Wicinski once again sparked the run as she scored the first three points with back-to-back kills and a block.
As a team, the Huskies racked up 40 kills and a .299 hitting percentage, along with 35 digs and nine blocks, scoring 57 points. Toledo's line: 31 kills, .136 hitting percentage, 31 digs, four blocks, 39 points.
Wicinski led the way for NIU with 19 kills and hit .441. Romo also achieved double-digit kills with 10 and a .444 attack percentage, along with a season-high-tying four blocks for the second straight match. McGlaughlin was most efficient in putting up a season-best .583 hitting percentage, totaling eight kills. Junior setter Kristin Hoffman ran the offense well with 37 assists, while senior libero Maddie Hughes captained the defense with 15 digs, marking the fourth straight match that she has had 10 or more digs.
Last Meeting Against The Cardinals
In its first Mid-American Conference match of the season, the Northern Illinois volleyball team suffered a heartbreaking five-set loss to Ball State on September 24 at Victor E. Court, 25-20, 18-25, 17-25, 25-23, 16-14.
Up 2-1 in the match, the Huskies held a 23-21 lead in the fourth set and were looking to close it out for the win. However, after a Ball State timeout, the Cardinals scored on a kill and consecutive ball handling errors on set attempts by freshmen middle blocker Sarah Angelos and outside hitter Lauren Wicinski turned the tables. Out of an NIU timeout, Wicinski's attack attempt didn't find the BSU court, forcing a fifth set.
In the decisive set, the Cardinals took an 8-7 lead at the switch and would hold a two-point advantage until NIU knotted the score at 12-12. The consecutive points came on a Wicinski kill and a block by the sophomore duo of middle blocker Mary Kurisch and outside hitter Meghan Romo. Following a Cardinal timeout, junior setter Kristin Hoffman served up an ace to put the Huskies two points away from victory. Ball State responded with a kill and block to regain the lead, 14-13. Romo answered with a putaway, but it would be the last point scored for NIU as Ball State scored on a kill and unsuccessful swing by junior outside hitter Allison McGlaughlin.
NIU held a 10-5 lead in the opening stanza, but BSU flipped the set with a 20-10 run. The Huskies then opened the second set with an 8-2 run and held a steady lead for an easy seven-point win. NIU did the same in the third set, jumping out to a 12-4 lead to cruise to an eight-point victory before losing the gut wrenching fourth and fifth sets.
Both teams played a little sloppy as Ball State had 27 attack errors and nine serve errors, while NIU had 19 attack errors and 10 serve errors. The Cardinals held advantages in kills (64-59) and digs (80-71). The Huskies owned an edge in aces (9-5) and blocks (9-5), but it was BSU's ability to score the crucial points in the final two sets that led to the win.
Despite the last two sets ending on their swings, Wicinski and McGlaughlin carried the Huskies as both posted double-doubles. Wicinski racked up a season-high 28 kills along with 11 digs for her seventh double-double. She also added three blocks and two aces. McGlaughlin notched 14 kills, the highest total in her last 12 matches, and a season-best 13 digs. Hoffman also netted a double-double with 52 assists and 12 digs, while also totaling three aces and two kills.
Defensively, senior Maddie Hughes tallied 18 digs. Sophomore defensive specialist Sue Hayes reached double-figures as well with 10 digs.
With an 11-0 run to start the season and a current 23-2 record, 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 25, she leads the MAC in points (5.71/set), kills (4.83/set), and aces (0.58/set). Additionally, as of October 25, 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 (75%), blocks (80%), 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 seven road matches. The feat has not been accomplished by NIU since 1992.
NIU is 5-1 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 25)
NIU leads the nation in wins and ranks fifth in winning percentage (.920), 20th in aces (1.73/set), 23rd in hitting percentage (.267), 25th in kills (14.08/set), and 29th in assists (13.11/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 18th in assists (11.34/set). Angelos ranks 65th in hitting percentage (.349), while Kurisch ranks 134th (.323). Senior libero Maddie Hughes (St. Charles, Ill./North) stands 103rd in digs (4.45/set).
MAC Leaders (As of October 25)
NIU ranks at the top of the MAC in hitting percentage, kills, and aces. The Huskies also rank second in assists, fourth in opponent hitting percentage (.178), seventh in digs (14.49/set), and eighth in blocks (1.76/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 third in hitting percentage, while Kurisch is fourth and fourth in blocks (0.94/set), too. Hoffman ranks second in assists. Hughes ranks sixth in digs.
Hoffman has piled up over 30 assists and at least one point in each of the last eight matches, including a career-best 67 helpers September 30 in the five-set win at home over Western Michigan.
Kurisch has tallied two or more blocks in seven consecutive contests, while junior outside hitter Allison McGlaughlin (Morton, Ill./Morton) has had a block or better in three in a row.
Wicinski has registered double-figures in points in every match. She has also had 24 straight matches with double-figure kills. Additionally, she has had one or more blocks in 10 in a row.
Hughes has reached double figures in digs in each of her last 12 matches, including 20 or more in her last five of her last eight. She has also been perfect in serve reception in four straight.
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 152-123. 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 wraps up its road swing at Western Michigan on Thursday, November 4th at 6 p.m. (CT). The Huskies then return home for the remaining three MAC matches of the regular season, starting with a Saturday, November 6th contest against Bowling Green at 7 p.m.