MILWAUKEE – The Northern Illinois volleyball team closed its 2012 season with a 3-1 loss at Marquette on Saturday evening at the Al McGuire Center as the Golden Eagles (27-6) possessed 52-46 kills, .305-.176 hitting, 70-60 digs and 10-4 blocks advantages over the Huskies (21-15) for a 28-26, 25-15, 15-25, 25-12 win.
“Tonight was a match of runs,” said NIU Head Coach Ray Gooden. “They had some positive runs in the beginning of every set but the third. We came up a little short in the first set – had two chances to end it. The third set was good – we made a couple of changes and served really well. They started off well against us in the fourth and we started slow and couldn’t’ get ourselves back in it.”
After trailing 9-2 in the first set, the Huskies outscored Marquette 20-14 to pull within a point, 23-22, after an MU serve error. NIU followed with kills from Emily Paschke and Mary Kurisch to set up a chance at set point. But after the teams exchanged kills, a Huskie blocking error and attack error flipped the table. Following an MU service error, the Golden Eagles closed out the set with two straight kills.
The Huskies fell behind early again in the second set, but didn’t recover like they did in the opening frame. The Golden Eagles jumped out to a 10-3 lead. A few moments later, back-to-back kills by Meghan Romo (Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso) brought NIU within four points, 14-10. However, NIU did not get any close as MU ended the set with an 11-5 run.
With their backs against the wall on the road, the Huskies responded well out of the locker room with a 10-1 spurt to start the third set. The run was fueled by solid serving from Kayla Zeno (Lake Elmo, Minn/Stillwater Area), who served eight times and racked up three aces. Marquette never recovered in the set as NIU hit .379 and held MU to .033.
Unfortunately, NIU’s momentum did not carry over into the fourth as Marquette once again cruised out to an early 10-4 lead. The Huskies struggled to fight back as the Golden Eagles outhit NIU .345 to -.081 and held a 5-0 blocking edge in the set.
Romo led all attackers in the match with 17 kills and hit a solid .316. MacKenzie Roddy also reached double digits with 11 kills and added 11 digs. Amber Walker led the back row with 18 digs.
The match for NIU puts an end to a stellar season. Despite massive losses – two All-Americans and a three-time All-MAC selection – heading into the 2012 campaign and being picked by the Mid-American Conference coaches to finish fourth in the West Division, the Huskies rallied together all year and defied the odds and Gooden was chosen as MAC Coach of the Year for the second straight seaason. Not only did they finish second in the West in the regular season, they also reached their third straight MAC Tournament championship match. Along the way, Gooden picked up his 200th career win and guided NIU to its third straight season with 20 or more wins and fifth overall. He also had his fourth season with 10 or more MAC wins and third straight. Additionally, the Huskies had their fifth consecutive year with multiple All-MAC selections.
“Towards the end of the season, our team really understood that they could play with some of the better teams in the country,” Gooden said. “We’ve done some really good things. Now, we need to understand that we are capable of playing at that level and do that with this next group next year.
“I definitely want to thank the seniors – Meghan Romo, Amber Walker, Mary Kurisch, Sue Hayes and Sam Grams -- for a great year of teamwork and selflessness. It was a fun run.”
NIU returns eight players for the 2013 season that accounted for over 48 percent of this season’s digs 59 percent of the aces, 54 percent of the kills, 52 percent of the blocks and 93 percent of the assists.