Volleyball opens MAC play with 3-1 win over NIU
Determination propelled Central Michigan volleyball to a huge 3-1 win over Northern Illinois in its Mid-American Conference opener at McGuirk Arena on Friday.
The Chippewas are 7-6 on the season and 1-0 in conference play. NIU is 6-5 on the year and 0-1 in conference play.
“I felt like there wasn’t much difference between us and NIU in the first two sets,” said head coach Mike Gawlik. “ We were able to pull it out with a couple of clutch plays. I thought (Willer) just carried such a big load for us offensively, early on and certainly late.”
How it happened
After taking an early lead, CMU desperately tried to stave off the Huskies' offense, who found their rhythm early in the first set. The Chippewas fought their way back into the contest with the help of freshman outside hitter Linnea Willer. Nearing set point, both teams ratcheted up the pressure looking to pull ahead. However, after a successful challenge, CMU locked up the first set 26-24.
NIU jumped out in front of the Chippewas to open the second set. Looking to turn things in its favor, CMU relied on senior outside hitter Savannah Thompson to steady the ship. Thompson silenced the Huskies through the service line, allowing CMU to go on an eight-point run. NIU eventually fought back, forcing the Chippewas to work for a 29-27 win in set two.
With NIU coach Ray Gooden barking critiques from the sidelines, the Huskies opened set three on a roll, building a six-point lead as the Chippewas scrambled to answer back. However, before CMU knew it, the Huskies' lead had grown to eight. The NIU advantage continued to grow as they took the third set 25-14.
Looking to shut the door on the Huskies, CMU began the fourth set looking to prove a point. After falling behind by three, NIU tried to rally and cut the lead to one. However, with the Huskies nipping at their heels, the Chippewas quickly pushed their lead to six. CMU continued to pour in on in front of a raucous home crowd to seal set four 25-16.
Willer led the Chippewas with 22 kills while carrying a .514 hitting percentage, a collegiate-high for her.
“I think Grace was giving me really great sets, I could see their block and see that their middle wasn’t quite closing, so I felt like I had my cross-shot open,” Willer said. “That really helped.”
Thompson finished with 14 kills and 18 digs.
Senior setter Grace Butler led CMU in assists with 29. She also recorded 15 digs.
Freshman libero Aly Gurtiza led all players in digs with 28 to go along with nine assists.
CMU outpaced NIU in assists by nine.
The Huskies recorded three more solo blocks than the Chippewas.
The Chippewas will look to remain undefeated in conference play when they face NIU at McGuirk Arena on Saturday, Sept. 25, at 6 p.m.