The Opening Serve
Northern Illinois will look to rebound from its first back-to-back losses of the year this week with the second split weekend of the season. Fellow Mid-American Conference West Division foe Western Michigan will host the Huskies on Thursday. NIU then heads back home to take on East Division Bowling Green on Saturday in the Huskies’ first match at Victor E. Court in 22 days. In the other divided week of the season, NIU topped WMU at home and defeated Miami (Ohio) on the road, both in five sets, on Sept. 30 and Oct. 3, respectively.
The tough weekend for the Huskies saw them fall from sole possession of first place into a tie for second place with Eastern Michigan. Currently, NIU stands in the top-four overall in the MAC. With four contests left, if the Huskies can stay put in that group, they will earn a bye in the first round of the MAC Tournament for the second straight year.
Northern Illinois will have a chance to end a paramount season-long road trip on the north side of .500 this week. A win on Thursday would put NIU at 3-2 on the journey, and 8-2 overall away from home. A victorious result would also widen the gap between the Huskies and Broncos, who stand just one game behind NIU for the fourth spot.
On Saturday against Bowling Green, who stands sixth in the East, NIU will have an opportunity to resume its current four-match winning streak at Victor E. Court.
The Huskies, who have won nine of their last 11 contests, enter the week after a tough five-set loss at Toledo last Friday and losing a three-setter at Ball State, who took over first place.
Western Michigan returns home following a 2-2 road trip, which ended with a pair of losses last weekend to the same opponents as NIU. Prior to the excursion, WMU had won six matches in a row.
Bowling Green comes to campus having split its matches last weekend. The Falcons took down Buffalo (3-1) on Friday, but fell to Akron (3-2) on Saturday to end a four-game home stand at 1-3.
The All-Time Series
Western Michigan leads the all-time tilt against NIU, 29-16. But the Huskies beat the Broncos for first time since 2006 in their last meeting, which came just over a month ago.
NIU holds a 20-9 edge in the all-time series over Bowling Green. However, the Falcons took the last matchup between the two in five sets last season on Nov. 7.
Last Meeting Against The Broncos
Another item was added to the Northern Illinois volleyball team's list of achievements this season as the Huskies took down Western Michigan for the first time since 2006 on Sept. 30 at Victor E. Court in a critical early season Mid-American Conference match, 22-25, 25-17, 25-27, 25-21, 15-10.
All the odds seem stacked up against NIU entering the match. The Huskies hadn't beaten the Broncos since September 28, 2006 -- almost four years to the day. In that span, WMU had won seven matches in a row over NIU. The three-time MAC West Division defending champions also came to DeKalb on a five-match winning streak. However, the Huskies were due to break through, and they did just that by out-scoring Western 87-71 with the help of a .298 attack percentage, compared to the Broncos' .228.
A factor of both the past and present has been NIU's home court advantage as the Huskies continued their dominance at Victor E. Court. In ending their season-long home stand with an exclamation point, the Huskies improved to 5-2 during the stretch and 10-2 at home this year. NIU also improved to 38-30 at "The Dog House" against conference foes and 85-50 overall under Gooden.
Needing five sets to decide the winner, the match showed why both teams are near the top of the league as there were 10 lead changes and 24 ties. NIU got off to a slow start in the first set, falling down 11-7 and needing a timeout to regroup, but WMU stayed strong to keep the cushion for the win.
The Huskies found their groove in the second set, though, hitting .500 with 15 kills. NIU opened a 14-6 lead with the help of three kills by freshman outside hitter Lauren Wicinski and two from sophomore middle blocker Mary Kurisch. NIU then rode the run to an easy win to knot the match.
The third stanza started out much the same as the second, as NIU continued to roll. However, with the Huskies up 15-8, Western Michigan clawed back to tie it at 22-22, forcing an NIU timeout. But the Huskies could not slow down the Broncos, who would go on to regain the match lead with the help of four Huskie errors down the stretch.
With the match on the line in the fourth set, the teams battled back and forth to the tune of 18 ties and nine lead changes. The last tie came at 20-20 after a WMU serve error out of an NIU timeout. Sophomore outside hitter Meghan Romo then started a 5-1 run with a kill and would add another during the spurt to help force a fifth set.
In the match-deciding set, NIU took an 8-7 lead at the turn following a kill from freshman middle blocker Sarah Angelos. The teams then exchanged points on errors before a WMU kill tied the score, 9-9. Then the nation's 10th leading kills getter took over. Wicinski blasted down three straight balls to put NIU comfortably ahead in ending the match on a 5-1 run.
Wicinski, the country's freshmen leader in kills and aces, notched a season-high 29 kills on the night with a .309 attack percentage and 12 digs for her ninth double-double. She also added three blocks and an ace to give her a team-high 32.5 points, which she has achieved in two of her last three matches.
Junior outside hitter Allison McGlaughlin and junior setter Kristin Hoffman also registered double-doubles. Hoffman tied a season high with 67 assists and had 10 digs for her third double-double, along with three kills and two blocks. McGlaughlin tied a season high with 15 kills and had 12 digs, adding three aces to boot, in her third double dip of the year.
The sophomore combo of Kurisch and Romo provided stellar production as well. Kurisch turned in 12 kills and a .379 hitting percentage with one ace. Romo totaled 11 kills and a .348 hitting percentage along with a block.
In the back row, a pair of defenders had exception performances. Senior libero Maddie Hughes piled up a season-high 27 digs, while freshman defensive specialist Justine Schepler had a season-best 13 digs.
Last Meeting Against The Falcons
After taking a 2-0 advantage in the match with all of the momentum in its favor, the Northern Illinois volleyball team could not close out Bowling Green, as the Falcons rallied to win the final three sets to defeat the Huskies on Nov. 7 at Anderson Arena in a Mid-American Conference contest.
In the fifth set, Bowling Green held an 8-5 lead at the turn after a block by Allison Kearney and Shari Luther, and backed it up with another block on the next sequence by Luther and Kaitlin Jackson. BGSU then got a kill from Luther and an ace by Corey Domek to go up 11-5. After an NIU timeout, Domek notched another ace, and kept the momentum in the Falcons' favor to help close out the match, 15-7.
The Huskies took the first set by breaking a 21-21 tie following an NIU timeout, and finishing strong. A bad set by Kearney gave NIU the lead again and then Monica Lang tallied an ace on the next play to force Bowling Green to take a timeout. But the Falcons failed to regroup as Emily Kauth's attack error gave NIU a chance for set-point. However, Kauth's swing on the next sequence found the ground for a point. Allison McGlaughlin then followed with a kill to end it, 25-22.
NIU continued its strong finish into the second set by scoring the first five points, and later opened up a 15-3 lead after a McGlaughlin kill forced BGSU to take a timeout. Even after the timeout, NIU didn't slow down, as McGlaughlin and Cassie Yates notched back-to-back kills before the Falcons got on the board again. With a 17-4 lead, the Huskies were then able to ride the momentum to a 25-5 win to go up 2-0 in the match.
Then the momentum took a complete 180-degree turn after the break.
In the third set, the Huskies got off to a slow start and had to call a timeout, trailing 6-3 after a kill by Noelle Spitler. Yates started the Huskies off with a kill out of the timeout, but still struggled to get it going, as they had to use another timeout following a kill by Domek that gave the Falcons a 15-10 lead. Meagan Schoenrock responded with a kill, and then an attack error by Spitler brought the Huskies closer, 15-12. After a kill by Domek, Alex Zlabis' serve error and an attack error by Domek forced the Falcons to take a timeout, leading 16-14. BGSU then regrouped to end the set, 25-21.
The Huskies started slow again in the fourth set and had to burn a timeout, trailing 12-6 after an attack error by McGlaughlin. However, BGSU did not slow down and extended the lead to 17-7 following a kill by Jackson. The Falcons then finished the set, 25-13, to force the decisive fifth set.
Schoenrock led NIU with 15 kills, and had four blocks. McGlaughlin also reached double-digits with 11 kills, while Kristin Hoffman tallied 44 assists and 12 digs for her fourth double-double of the season, and second in a row.
On defense, Sue Hayes led the team with a season-high 17 digs. Maddie Hughes reached double-figures as well with 14 digs.
With an 11-0 run to start the season and a 23-2 record through Oct. 28, 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 November 1, she leads the MAC in points (5.61/set), kills (4.77/set), and aces (0.55/set). Additionally, as of November 1, 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.
She’s Just The 16th
On October 29th, junior outside hitter Allison McGlaughlin became the 16th Huskie to reach the 1,000-kill plateau, doing so at Toledo. With 1,015 career kills, McGlaughlin is within 55 of moving into 15th place on the all-time list at NIU.
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 won each of their first seven road matches over the course of 50 days. The feat had not been accomplished by NIU since 1992.
NIU is 5-2 in five-setters thus far. During their recent nine-match winning streak (Sept. 25-Oct.23), 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 November 1)
NIU ranks second in the nation in wins (23), 15th in winning percentage (.852), 24th in aces (1.64/set), 29th in hitting percentage (.260), 31st in kills (13.92/set), and 35th in assists (13.01/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 19th in assists (11.31/set). Angelos ranks 55th in hitting percentage (.356), while Kurisch ranks 165th (.311). Senior libero Maddie Hughes (St. Charles, Ill./North) stands 105th in digs (4.43/set).
MAC Leaders (As of November 1)
NIU ranks at the top of the MAC in hitting percentage, kills, and aces. The Huskies also rank second in assists, sixth in digs (14.54/set), seventh in opponent hitting percentage (.189), and eighth in blocks (1.70/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 eighth and fifth in blocks (0.91/set), too. Hoffman ranks second in assists. Hughes ranks fourth in digs.
Hoffman has piled up over 30 assists and at least one point in each of the last 10 matches, including a career-best 67 helpers September 30 in the five-set win at home over Western Michigan.
Kurisch has tallied at least one block in nine consecutive contests.
Wicinski has registered double-figures in points in every match. She has also had 26 straight matches with double-figure kills.
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 152-125. 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 finishes the MAC regular season schedule with two home games next weekend. The Huskies will face Eastern Michigan on Friday, Nov. 12, at 6 p.m. and Central Michigan on Saturday, Nov. 13, at 7 p.m.