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Volleyball opens MAC play with loss to Northern Illinois

Greg Cornwell | Staff Photographer Sophomores Taylor Robertson and Paige Carey jump up to block a hit by Evansville Friday night at McGuirk Arena. The Chippewas lost to the Aces but went on to win the Chippewa Challenge.

As the Mid-American Conference season opened, Central Michigan fell to Northern Illinois for the seventh consecutive time, losing 3-1 Friday night at the Convocation Center in DeKalb, Illinois.

The tide of the match changed in set two, when NIU tied the match with a 25-10 win over the Chippewas, snapping CMU’s seven-set winning streak.

"We had a complete collapse in passing (in set two)," said CMU head coach Erik Olson. "We had opportunities, we just hit the ball out with bad passing. We just got in a big hole in set two. When our passing went south, we just lost control." 

NIU (5-8, 1-0 MAC) avoided the 2-0 deficit by scoring the first seven points of the second set, forcing CMU to use both of its timeouts early on. The Huskies dominated the set and led by as many as 16. NIU would ride that momentum to the win. 

Olson said his team played like an inexperienced squad in the MAC opener. 

"It just looked like we went back to being a bunch of rookies," he said. "We shot ourselves in the foot in a lot of different ways, and it wasn't just one person."

The Chippewas weren't able carry over their success from the previous tournament into the match. 

"We didn't play anywhere close to the level of the Chippewa Challenge," Olson said. "That's the disappointing thing."

Olson said the loss was more about what his team didn't do, and not what NIU did. 

"This team was not as good as the two teams we beat at the Chippewa Challenge," he said. "I don't think we got beat tonight, I think we beat ourselves. (NIU) didn't do anything special. They had a very predictable offense." 

NIU’s junior outside hitter T’ara Austin recorded seven kills in the second set, two more than the entire CMU team finished with during the set. Austin led all players with 19 kills in the match.

The Huskies owned the rest of the night finishing off the Chippewas in set four thanks to a 16-8 run to start the set that led to a 25-13 win. 

Heading into the third set tied, both teams traded points until a 6-0 run by Northern Illinois gave the Huskies a 16-12 lead.

CMU (5-9, 0-1 MAC) would cut the deficit to 17-16, but that would be as close as the Chippewas would get as the Huskies pulled away thanks to four straight attack errors by CMU.

"We were still making a ton of hitting errors," Olson said. "Our distribution to our hitters was not right, and we weren't connecting with the middles all that well. We just got really predictable." 

The bright spot for the Chippewas came in set one, when sophomore outside hitter Taylor Robertson’s fourth kill extended CMU’s set winning streak giving CMU a 25-22 win.  

Sophomore outside hitter Jordan Bueter led CMU in kills with 16, followed by 11 from Robertson and 10 from fellow sophomore outside hitter Jessica Meichtry.

CMU takes on arch rival Western Michigan tomorrow at Read Fieldhouse/University Arena in Kalamazoo, Michigan at 7 p.m. 

"We're going to have to regroup and get after Western Michigan," Olson said. "We just have to be focused, and keep our focus long enough that we can communicate."