By STEVE GOLDMAN
For the Star Beacon
HARPERSFIELD TOWNSHIP —
The Bowling Green State University volleyball team didn’t take the easy road to the Mid-American Conference championship. But as long as you get there, it doesn’t matter which road you take.
For the second day in a row in the MAC Volleyball Championship tournament, the second-seeded Falcons had to come from behind in order to win. This time, they overcame a two-game deficit and two match points to wrest a thrilling 20-25, 24-26, 26-24, 25-20, 15-4 win over fourth-seeded Northern Illinois University on Sunday at Spire Institute.
It marked the first MAC title for BGSU (21-10) since 1991. The Huskies (21-14) lost in the final round for the third consecutive year.
“This team worked so hard, all season long — from day one when I came to be here this January,,” first-year Bowling Green coach Danijela Tomic said. “Our spring season was great. We went through all the changes that we needed to implement. They worked hard all summer preparing for our fall season.
“We went through so many ups and downs. And to finish with this win, losing the first two sets and then coming from behind, it just tells you about the character of this team. You can’t coach these things. So I’m just very, very happy for them.”
Junior left outside hitter Paige Penrod was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Penrod capped an outstanding three days with 17 kills, and team highs in digs (29) and serve-receives (47).
NIU won the first two games behind strong hitting, led by outside hitter Meghan Romo (18 kills). It never trailed in Game 1, and jumped to a 16-8 advantage in Game 2. But BG responded with a sideout and six points off Penrod’s serve to cut it to 16-15, and eventually grabbed two leads, the latter one at 22-21.
After falling behind 24-22, BG scored the next two points. However, a Romo kill provided a sideout, and the Huskies wrapped up the game on a point on a serve by Amber Walker (29 digs).
“We needed to get some production from our middles,” Tomic said. “I had to make the change after the second set, because Leah (Shaw) and Kaitlyn (Skinner) did a great job (in the 5-game semifinal victory over Western Michigan), but for some reason the two of them just do not match up well against Northern Illinois. So I just gambled with Kelsey Bates and Kari (Galen). And they created a subtle momentum changer.
“And I just thought we weren’t playing hard. We started playing hard at the end of the second set, but it was too late; we just dug ourselves too deep. I felt we needed to play that hard every point of the match for us to win it. And our players started doing that. We started getting more touches on their hitters, we started digging a little bit better, and we served well, which we knew was going to be the key, because when that team is in their system, they’re very, very hard to defend.”
As Tomic alluded to, as the match went on the Falcon players were able to at least deflect more and more of the Huskies’ spikes. The difference pertaining to Romo’s alone was quite noticeable.
“That’s what we needed,” Tomic said. “We couldn’t leave them an open net to hit, and that’s what was happening.”
Game 3 saw the Falcons fight back from a pair of three-point deficits to tie, but were faced with double match point after kills by Romo and Mary Kurisch (14 kills) gave NIU a 24-22 lead.
But BG got the sideout and then evened it on a kill by Lindsey Butterfield (21 kills, 14 digs). Another Butterfield kill and a Huskie miss gave the Falcons the game.
Clearly with the momentum on its side, Bowling Green jumped to an 11-5 lead in the fourth game. The Huskies were able to chip it to 18-16 and 19-17, but a pair of Butterfield kills eventually closed it out.
The rubber game wasn’t close. A sideout and three points on Penrod’s serve made it 4-0, and moments later, a sideout and seven points on the serve of libero Ashley Dunn (27 digs) pushed it out to 12-2. A kill by Butterfield ended it at 3:28 p.m., two hours and 22 minutes after the start of the match.
Danielle Tonyan had 15 kills and setter Laura Avila 59 assists and 15 digs for BG. Sarah Angelos had 10 kills, MacKenzie Roddy 10 kills and 13 digs, Justine Schepler 12 digs and Alexis Gonzalez 49 assists for NIU.
Now, as a result of the automatic berth that comes with the MAC title, the Falcons will head to the NCAA tournament, which will also mark the first time they have been there since 1991.
“I’m just so proud of these girls,” Tomic said. “We have Lauren Mizgalski, who is a fifth-year senior, and this is the first time for her. And Kari Galen — this is the fourth year for her. Leah Shaw-- this is her second year. Cassie (Berning) — we have four seniors (for whom) this is going to be their first full-season trip to the NCAA. What a (great) way to finish your college career — by going to the NCAA.
Goldman is a freelance writer from South Euclid.
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