Huskies topple Broncos in five-set thriller – Northern Star

FromKALB – All five sets were needed to determine the winner of Tuesday night’s Mid-American Conference game between NIU Volleyball (10-3, 3-0 MAC) and the Western Michigan University Broncos (10-5 , 2-1 MAC) to Victor E . To research.

The Huskies successfully defended their home turf with a 3-2 win after a narrow turnaround from last weekend’s pair of wins over the University of Akron. NIU won Tuesday’s first and third sets by scores of 27-25 and 25-14. They then secured a 15-9 victory in the fifth set.

“The Huskies fought back,” head coach Ray Gooden said. “We were able to win this round of the battle with one of the best teams in our league.”

NIU emerged victorious in three challenges in three straight rallies in the deciding set of the match. Gooden issued two of the challenges.

“It was great,” said senior outside striker Katie Jablonski. “It’s funny, usually we lose all our challenges. It was good that Ray trusted us enough to listen to us and challenge them. We were pretty confident about them. It was just another fuel for the fire that gave us the right finish.

Huskies thrive in box scoring

Three Huskies recorded double-doubles on the night. Jablonski and senior outside hitter Brianna “Bina” Scuric combined for 27 kills and 29 digs. Junior setter Ella Mihacevich had a season-high 55 assists and 17 digs. The trio were also three of five Huskies to have double-digit kills.

“It fits with what our team tries to preach, which is balance,” Gooden said. “We can’t have one particular person win for us. A lot of people did a lot of different things to help us succeed tonight.

Second-year Libero Francesca Bertucci led all players in the match with 42 digs. The NIU as a whole counted 100 searches overnight.

“It’s fun to watch Franki Bertucci perform,” Gooden said. “She does things that just make you happy watching volleyball.”

A meeting of familiar enemies

The last meeting between the Huskies and the Broncos resulted in victory for NIU in last year’s regular season finale on November 17, 2021. NIU beat the Broncos to a 3-1 victory thanks to the efforts of the Husky defense. The Broncos were held to a .173 hit percentage in that game. NIU recorded 96 digs and nine blocks. WMU led the all-time series, 34-32, heading into Tuesday’s game.

WMU’s opening set loss was the first time they had dropped a set since their Sept. 16 bout against Bradley University. NIU’s 25-21 loss in the second set marks their first loss since dropping the first set of the NIU Invitational on Sept. 16 against the University of Rhode Island.

The Huskies have been tasked with containing WMU players like senior outside hitter Maggie King and junior setter Logan Case. King’s 3.80 kills per set and Case’s 11.59 assists per set led MAC in their respective categories heading into Tuesday.

NIU held WMU to a .171 hit percentage over five sets. King recorded 11 kills, the Broncos’ second-highest tally. Case had 52 of WMU’s 58 assists. Both players have achieved double-doubles, each being their fifth of the season.

“They’re great players,” Gooden said. “We have bona fide teams in our division, not to mention the conference. For us to be able to end this home stretch on a positive note, beat a division team, do it in front of a very good crowd (277), it’s really good for our group.

A battle to finish the home straight

NIU opened the first set with a 4-0 lead. The Broncos quickly got back into the game with a points push that turned into a points battle. WMU held on to the 15-13 lead in the media timeout. The Huskies cut their deficit to tie the game at 21. A block-and-kill by NIU took them to the set point, up 24-22.

A pair of kills by King tied the set at 24. A kill compromise created another tie. The Huskies’ knockouts came in the form of wins for Jablonski and second-year middle tackle Atiemo. NIU took the set 27-25.

Neither team was able to build an overwhelming advantage to open the second set. The Broncos started to take control after about halfway through the set. WMU held a five-point lead at media timeout, 15-10.

Down 19-14, NIU repelled a two-point deficit, down 22-20. The Broncos came back with a pair of wins to reach the set point. NIU had one final kill by Atiemo before WMU sophomore middle tackle Madison Merz delivered the winning kill. NIU’s 25-21 loss marks its first loss since dropping the first set of the NIU Invitational on Sept. 16 against the University of Rhode Island.

It was probably the most fun volleyball game I’ve played since I started here.

— Katie Jablonski, senior outside forward

The Huskies raced to a 7-1 start in set 3, including a quartet of kills by junior right-sided forward Emily Dykes. The Broncos’ timeout after 7-1 helped turn the momentum in their favor. NIU called their own timeout after back-to-back attacking errors made it 12-8.

The timeout helped rekindle the momentum for the Huskies. NIU took a 22-14 lead. A series of blunders by WMU resulted in their own loss after four straight attacking errors gave NIU the third set, 25-14.

Tuesday’s fourth set was a shootout as neither team allowed the other to create a wide margin. The score tied 10 times. The Broncos eventually formed a 23-19 lead late in the set. A WMU kill brought a set point. An offensive error by Jablonski gave the Broncos the set 25-19 and forced the fifth set.

Gooden credited the Broncos for their ability to create problems for the Huskies and bring the game to five sets.

“They had two really good service rotations there,” Gooden said. “No. 19 (King) and No. 12 (Case) did a really good job from the service line. It really put us under pressure.

Junior right side hitter Emily Dykes drives the ball over the net in Tuesday’s game against Western Michigan University. Dykes led all players in the game with 19 kills. (Mingda Wu)

The fifth set started with a blow for blow between the enemies of the MAC. NIU then took a 10-7 lead. The next three rallies saw a pair of NIU challenges with a WMU challenge in between. NIU won all three to go up 13-7. Atiemo’s ensuing kill created a match point. The match winner was the result of WMU’s 26th attacking error of the match to give NIU the set 15-9.

“It was probably the most fun volleyball game I’ve played since I started here,” Jablonski said.

Tuesday’s victory also cemented a new pregame tradition for Dykes.

“I’m going to drink Dunkin’ before every game now,” Dykes said.

The win saw NIU finish Tuesday night atop the MAC West Division standings. The Huskies are yet to lose a game since losing twice on the final day of the Popcorn Classic on Sept. 3. WMU’s loss puts them fourth in the Western Division standings.

And after

NIU will have the opportunity to add to their winning streak on their upcoming Empire State road trip. The Huskies will face the University at Buffalo Bulls for a two-game series Friday and Saturday at Alumni Arena in Buffalo, New York.

Friday’s game will air on ESPN+ beginning at 6 p.m. CT. Saturday’s Game 2 will be available on the UB Bull YouTube channel beginning at 1 p.m. CT. Live stats from both games will be available on SIDEARM Sports.

Regular season home volleyball games are free in Buffalo.