NIU Volleyball Looks To Clinch MAC West Title Against Western Michigan Or Miami

GO HUSKIES Junior outside hitter Laura Baetzel and her teammates are seeking their first MAC West Division title since 2001.
Junior outside hitter Laura Baetzel and her teammates are seeking their first MAC West Division title since 2001.

Nov. 1, 2006

DeKalb, Ill. - Both Northern Illinois Head Volleyball Coach Ray Gooden and his squad know what is at stake this weekend, as the Huskies could clinch the Mid-American West Division title with their next victory or a Central Michigan loss.

The Huskies (17-7) enter Thursday night's contest against Western Michigan (14-12, 4-8 MAC) with a MAC record of 10-2, while the Chippewas sit in second-place with a mark of 7-5. Following their match against the Broncos, NIU will take to the road and travel to Oxford, Ohio to face Miami (12-13, 8-4 MAC) on Saturday night at 6 p.m. (CST).

Gooden, however, is doing his best to make sure that his Huskies are a focused bunch, rather than deal with any distractions.

"We've worked hard on trying not to forecast or look ahead to things," Gooden said. "If we give our best efforts against Western Michigan, then the rest takes care of itself."

Against Western Michigan, NIU will compete in front of a jam-packed Victor E. Court, as the Huskies will try to break the previous record of 608 set against Saint Louis on September 14, 2002.

"It's great to be home and really make a big push for (the MAC West title) when there are so many positive things going on in the department," Gooden said. "We're very fortunate to have (that support)."

Western Michigan brings a triple threat to the table in senior outside hitter Kathryn Babcock, freshman outside hitter Katie Eberling and sophomore middle hitter Ashley Vogl, each of whom have totaled at least 300 kills this season.

"Western Michigan is second in the conference in kills-per-game," Gooden said. "They score the ball a lot and we're going to have to match that and find ways to slow them down. They're a balanced and very physical team offensively."

Miami's Emily Schroeder paces the RedHawks' attack with 395 kills, good for second overall in the MAC, while teammate Carli Reihman is hitting at a team-best clip of .285 (304 kills, 92 errors, 744 attacks).

"Miami is even more physical at times than Western," Gooden said. "For our last regular-season conference road match, being consistent is a big, big deal. A strong, positive part of our game is being consistent against teams because we need to be able to execute when we need to."

NIU's seniors Gina Guide (Orland Park, Ill.) and Kate McCullagh (Woodstock, Ill.) continue to display their talents nationally. Guide, a libero, is currently second in the country with 6.89 digs-per-game, while McCullagh is third in the nation with 5.72 kills-per-game.