Nov. 10, 2006
DeKalb, Ill. - The Northern Illinois volleyball team may have secured the Mid-American West Division championship and the No. 2 seed in the upcoming MAC Tournament in Toledo, but don't think for one second that the Huskies will be resting on their laurels this weekend against Akron (Friday) and Buffalo (Saturday). Both matches are slated for a 7 p.m. start.
"We're not in that position, even though we have the number two seed," NIU head coach Ray Gooden said. "We need to put ourselves into a good frame of mind heading into the tournament. That's our biggest thing. To not give the respect that Buffalo and Akron deserve would not be the right thing to do."
NIU (18-8, 11-3 MAC), who will celebrate `Senior Day' on Saturday evening against the Bulls, are led offensively by middle blocker Kate McCullagh (Woodstock, Ill.) and defensively by libero Gina Guide (Orland Park, Ill.). McCullagh is third in the NCAA, averaging 5.79 kills-per-game, while Guide is second in the nation in digs-per-game with 6.97.
Akron (7-21, 1-13 MAC) may have only won one MAC match this season, but Gooden wants NIU to impose its will on the Zips at the outset.
"There is a tempo that want to establish and maintain [against Akron]," Gooden said. "We're working really hard on taking advantage of opportunities and be as aggressive as we can and not trying to let up at all."
Buffalo (14-17, 3-11 MAC) has shown flashes of excellence this season and is led by senior outside hitters Jenna Mape and Nikki Morzenti. The duo paces the Bulls' offensive attack, as Mape has totaled a team-best, 364 kills, followed by Morzenti's 352 putaways.
"Buffalo is capable of being very good," Gooden said. "They're much better than what their record indicates. They can be a good blocking team and they have some physical kids on the left side. They've got a pretty aggressive setter. It's just a matter of us using our tempo to our advantage and not let them in to their type of tempo."
Saturday marks the final home match of both McCullagh and Guide, the first recruited class of the Ray Gooden era.
"We're thankful for all that Kate and Gina have given to our program," Gooden said. "We're pretty excited that a lot of those dreams and goals that they have set for themselves have come through in their senior year to this point. There are a lot of cool things that we can celebrate at our banquet, but in the same sense, there is still a big chunk of what we're trying to accomplish still to go."