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November 14, 2003

WOMEN'S COLLEGE VOLLEYBALL--- Northern Illinois University vs. University of Toledo / at DeKalb, IL / Victor E. Court / Mid-American Conference Match / Friday / November 14, 2003

FINAL SCORES: NORTHERN ILLINOIS defeats TOLEDO 3-1 (26-30, 30-26, 30-24, 30-28)

Box Score

HUSKIE VOLLEYBALL TAKES CONTROL OF ITS OWN DESTINY WITH 3-1 VICTORY OVER WEST DIVISION FOE TOLEDO
DeKALB, IL--Northern Illinois University bounced back from a dismal performance in game one to win three games in a row and put itself in control of its own destiny in terms of seeding for the Mid-American Conference Tournament with a 3-1 (26-30, 30-26, 30-24, 30-28) win over the University of Toledo in women's volleyball action at Victor E. Court Friday (Nov. 14).

With the win and Marshall University's loss at the University at Buffalo, NIU needs simply to win its final regular season match against Bowling Green State University Saturday (Nov. 15) to ensure a home match in the first round of the league summit. The Huskies currently stand at 7-8 in the MAC to compliment an 18-10 overall mark. Toledo drops to 10-21 on the year with a 5-11 record in conference matches.

NIU hit just .106 (16 kills-11 errors-47 attempts) in losing a 30-26 decision to open the night. Despite the error-filled play, the Huskies were actually within one a 18-17 before watching the Rockets pull away. After extending its advantage to four on three occasions, UT finally notched its largest lead of the contest at 29-24 after a Huskie attack error, and had enough breathing room to seal the victory.

Game two saw NIU experience both ends of the spectrum as eight service errors still hampered one part of the Huskie attack while the Cardinal and Black only committed three attack errors---a season-low for one game---to balance the scale a bit. Northern Illinois turned a 14-13 lead into a 17-13 advantage with a run punctuated by a tandem block by Brooke Dodson (St. Charles) and Megan Markowski (Glen Ellyn / Wheaton St. Francis) midway through the contest.

The pair also led the Huskie offensive attack combining to rack up nine kills at a .562 clip while failing to commit a single error. Behind the newfound efficiency at the net, NIU as high as four at 27-23 before watching the Rockets claw back in behind two straight kills and a Rachel Mohler service ace. The Huskies closed it out from there, however, scoring the last three points of the game behind a Dodson kill and a pair of Rocket errors to even the match at one game apiece.

"We weren't adjusting to the pace of the match very well," NIU head coach Ray Gooden said. "We finally did that a little in game two and forced them to make some errors while not making any of our own. That was big."

Once again, Dodson and Markowski led the way in game three, going another entire stanza without committing a single attack error while registering eight more points via the kill. Sophomore Corinne Walsh (Evergreen Park) joined in this time around, posting an errorless game of her own while hitting .500 (4-0-8) to headline the attack.

Despite the wealth of points at the net, the Huskies found themselves down 19-15 after UT answered NIU points with uncontested kills time and time again. Dodson took the serve after a Rocket service error, however, and ran off a string of four consecutive points to give NIU its first lead of the game at 20-19. The teams traded points to 24-23 before Markowski notched five straight points of her own with the serve to push the cushion to 29-23 and help close out a 30-24 win.

Walsh posted another errorless frame in a thrilling game four that sealed the match. The Evergreen Park native was a perfect three-for-three in the final stanza with two of those successful swings coming during a run that turned a 15-13 deficit into a 17-16 Huskie lead. Toledo bounced back and took control of the net, however, notching a back-to-back blocks to take a late 24-20 lead.

That's when the momentum changes started as the Huskies fought back to knot the game at 24-24 on a Markowski kill made possible by a spectacular Tera Lobdell (Plymouth, MN / Robbinsdale Armstrong) dig. A Toledo timeout spurred a three-point Rocket run, however, and UT looked to be on its way to a fifth and deciding game up 27-24. But, NIU scrapped its way to a 25th point that included players on both teams flying all over the court and was capped by a vicious kill by Kate McCullagh (Woodstock) that riled up the crowd and got the Huskies back into the game.

"Kate's kill was a great boost for our team," Gooden explained. "That really set the crowd off, and I don't want to say it was a final dagger or anything, but it was definitely a big boost for us."

NIU ran off the next three points to take the lead back at 28-27, and despite allowing Toledo to tie the contest up at 28-28, finished off the match with another McCullagh kill---the 22nd Northern Illinois kill of the game---and a Rocket attack error.

McCullagh was just one of a trio of Huskie middle blockers who finished the match hitting .320 or better. Markowski tied with Lobdell for the team lead in kills with 18 while attacking the net at a .378 clip (18-4-37) and adding seven total blocks on defense. Walsh closed out her night at a .364 pace (6-2-11) while McCullagh racked up 12 kills while hitting .321 (12-3-28). Besides her team-high mark in kills, Lobdell also topped the NIU charts with 14 digs to complete her 17th double-double of the season.

"Our middles did a really good job tonight," Gooden added. "They were aggressive and that's really good because it allowed them to score some points even when they were facing multiple blockers."

Northern Illinois' match with Bowling Green now has wide-ranging MAC Tournament implications with three or four teams in a position to trade seeds pending the outcomes of their matches Saturday (Nov. 15) night. The contest will also serve as Senior Appreciation Night at Victor E. Court as the Huskies look to send out Dodson and fellow senior Amanda Newlin (Rolling Hills Estates, CA / Palos Verdes Peninsula) out with a victory.

-30- --Copy by Brian Kedzior