Story by Brad Potts, BGSU Student Reporter
TOLEDO, OHIO -- The No. 4 Northern Illinois Huskies were able to pull out a victory in their first MAC tournament game at the Toledo SeaGate Centre, holding off a late score from the No. 5 Eastern Michigan Eagles. NIU won the match 3-2 (25-20, 18-25, 28-26, 24-26, 15-11).
The Huskies came out with great intensity in the first set of their tournament action, as they took an early 2-0 lead. They continue to stay on top as the Huskies eventually took the lead to 11-6. After an Eastern Michigan timeout, the Eagles seemed to come out relaxed as they continued to try and work their way back into the set. After the Eagles brought the set within one point at 13-12, the Huskies began to once again pull away. A great dig by Maddie Hughes (#14) led to NIU taking an 18-13 lead late in the set. After another attempt at a comeback, the Huskies once again pulled away to win the first set, 25-20.
The second set started off in a back and forth battle between the two teams. It wasn't until a kill; followed by a block by Rachel Ianquaniello of the Eagles did a team take control. This led the Eagles to an 11-6 lead. With Ianquaniello serving, the Eagles were able to further the lead to 16-9. Eastern Michigan had great performances by the Freshman Erin Short, Junior Haley Stein, and Sophomore Rachel Ianquanillo, who added 6 kills in the set, to lead the Eagles to a 25-18 set win, and tie in the match.
In the third set the Huskies took an early 7-2 lead. Eastern Michigan continued to battle their way back as they had in the first set, scoring consecutive points and eventually tying the game at 15-15 after a kill by Paige Roback. EMU then took a 16-15 lead, shortly after to be tied again at 16 all. Following kills by both teams the score became 17-17. The score continued to go back and forth until with Roback serving, the Eagles were able to take a 20-18 lead, forcing a Northern Illinois timeout. NIU was eventually able to tie it up at 22-22 after a kill by the MAC's Player of the Year, Lauren Wicinski. An attack error by the Eagles gave the Huskies a 23-22 lead, but was shortly lived after a kill by Ianquanillo. With a 24-23 lead by the Eagles, after a long volley the Huskies were able to keep the set going, making it 24 all. The score continued to stay close, until NIU was finally able to emerge as the winners, taking a 28-26 set victory and a 2-1 match lead.
The fourth match saw continual lead changes throughout most of the match. The set remain close, as neither team had more than a two point lead until Eastern Michigan was finally able to extend the lead to 3 at 19-16. The set remain very competitive still, as neither team was giving a way to the other, as eventually NIU tied it back up at 23-23. The game was then tied at 24-24, as it was going to come down to the end just like the third set. This time however, Eastern Michigan was able to win the set 26-24, taking the match for a fifth set. The Eagles were lead by strong play in this set by the Freshmen Erin Short who recorded 4 kills.
EMU's Ianquaniello started off the fifth set with a kill for the Eagles giving them the early advantage. Short added a block to make it 4-1 Eagles. Ianquaniello kept the Eagles in control every time the Huskies were trying to make a comeback, adding a key kill to give the Eagles an 8-5 advantage. A kill by Kristen Baker for the Eagles kept them in the lead 9-7. NIU was finally able to tie it up 10-10 on an EMU error. With Allison McGlaughlin serving the Huskies were able to go in front 12-10 leading to an EMU timeout. The Huskies then took the set and the match with a block by Wicinski, finishing the set 15-11.
The Huskies will take on the winner of the Ball State vs. Toledo game tomorrow in the semifinals. Game time is set for 4:30 p.m.