NIU Wins 5-Set Thriller Over Toledo For First Win Of Season


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01/29/2021 | 4 p.m.

DeKALB, IL The Northern Illinois University volleyball team won their first game of the season on Thursday night at Victor E. Court, beating the Toledo Rockets 3-2 (25:19, 18:25, 25:23, 16:25, 15:13).

Sophomore outside batsman Katie Jablonski (Elburn, Ill./New Hampshire) led all players in the match with 20 kills and hit .319. Grace Balensiefer (Lafayette, Ind./McCutchen) had her second double-double in a row with 43 assists and 11 digs. Kennedy Wallace (Kansas City, Kan./Piper) led NIU with seven blocks and added seven kills. Samantha Juarez (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) combined her career with 25 digs.

“These two teams are trying tonight to show all the good work they have done so far,” said head coach Ray Gooden. “Toledo has a really good team and is fighting hard. It was a good fight in the western division and good for us that we have ebb and flow tonight and that we can still be on the good side.”

Toledo won three of the first four points in the final set behind the kills of Chloee Kleespies and Rachel Pierce. After 6-4 the huskies got three kills from Brianna Scuric (East Troy, Wis./East Troy) in a 4-0 run to take an 8-6 lead. NIU was leading 9-7 as the Rockets won three direct points to go 10-9. Jablonski then put three kills over the next four points to give the hosts a 12-11 lead. Taylor Alt linked the set with 12 for Toledo, then the Rockets took a 13-12 advantage due to an NIU error. That would be the last point of the missiles. Kills from Jablonski and Wallace and a block from Wallace and Jasmine Kemp (DeKalb, Ill./DeKalb) at the match ball gave the huskies the set 15-12 and the match 3-2.

NIU (1-2, 1-2 MAC) came out in the first set, hitting .423 with 14 kills on just three mistakes. The Huskies took the lead after a 4-1 run with kills from Wallace, Balensiefer and 16-11 JoDee Kovanda (Lockport, Illinois / West Florida). NIU hit a set point of 24-18 after a Jablonski kill and a Wallace solo block. The rockets fought against a target value, Jablonski’s third kill brought the huskies the first set at 25:19.

“I think it was good for us to get some positive results,” said Gooden of the start of the game for NIU. “It was nice to see that some of our people got off to a good start and did a good job. We’re more balanced and it has helped us a lot.”

Toledo returned the favor in the second set, hitting .333 while holding NIU on .029 to win 25-18 and end the match in one set. NIU took a 7-3 lead behind Kovanda, Jablonski and in the third set Kaitlyn Bell (De Soto, Kan./De Soto) as well as one block from Kovanda and Jasmine Kemp (DeKalb, Ill./DeKalb). The Rockets returned with a 10-3 run, highlighted by a pair of Kleespies blocks, and rose at 14-11. NIU struggled back to tie the set on a Wallace pad at 16. Toledo then ran away three straight points to break an 18-18 tie and go up 21-18. Triggered by a Scuric kill, the Huskies ran four direct points and took the lead 22-21. Toledo got up 23-22, but the Huskies took the final three points to take the set 25-23 and win the match 2-1.

The two teams exchanged points to start the fourth set in a 9-9 draw. Toledo broke the draw in a big way, raking 15 direct points from Abby Ray’s serve to take a 24-9 lead. The Huskies ran seven straight points to get to 24-16, but a Kleespies kill gave the Rockets the 25-16 set to force a fifth and decisive set.

NIU hit .163 for the match at Toledo’s .239. The missiles also had a 75-67 advantage on digging and an edge of 14.0-12.0 on blocks. Kleespies led Toledo with 17 kills and Rachel Pierce added 15.

The Huskies and Rockets end their series at 4pm on Friday