HARRISONBURG, Va., Nov. 9, 2012 – Freshman outside hitter Meghan Niski (St. Charles, Ill./St. Charles East) collected a career-high 17 kills on .361 hitting to lead the James Madison volleyball team to a 3-0 sweep over Northeastern at Sinclair Gymnasium on Friday night. The Dukes won by set scores of 25-19, 25-23, 25-20.
With the win and losses by George Mason and UNCW, JMU clinched a berth in next weekend’s Colonial Athletic Association Championship. The Dukes improved to 12-14 on the season and 5-6 in league play while dropping the Huskies to 19-6 and 8-3 in the conference.
“It definitely was a big win for us,” head volleyball coach Lauren Steinbrecher said. “What a fun crowd. There is nothing like playing at home, especially for the seniors on Senior Weekend and we came out firing. We passed extremely well, stayed aggressive on the serve and Meghan Niski had a fantastic night. They couldn’t stop her and didn’t have anything for her.”
Niski led all players with 17 kills and she helped Madison pick up 50 kills to just 37 for Northeastern. She committed four errors in 36 attempts, adding eight digs on the night. Senior outside hitter Danielle Erb (Tampa, Fla./Plant) added 13 kills on .297 hitting. She collected her team-leading 14th double-double and her fifth in the last six matches with a season-high 18 digs, a block and three assists. Redshirt senior Natalie Abel (Washington, Pa./Trinity) contributed seven kills against just one error on 17 attempts for a .353 attack percentage while sophomore middle blocker Lizzy Briones (Siloam Springs, Ark./Siloam Springs) led all players with four blocks.
Freshman Sarah Patterson (Roanoke, Va./Hidden Valley) and senior Megan Wiechmann (Sunland, Calif./Village Christian) paced the Dukes’ offense to a .273 attack percentage, combining for 40 assists. Patterson had 23 assists to go with three blocks, nine digs, two kills and an ace while Wiechmann added eight digs and a kill. Freshman middle blocker MacKenzie Kleespies (Lincoln University, Pa./Avon Grove) had 10 digs and two blocks.
Outside hitter Kelly Bacon led Northeastern with a double-double. She had 11 kills, 15 digs and a solo block. Setter Jillian Briner just missed a triple-double with 12 assists, 11 digs and seven blocks while setter Ina Kamenova handed out 21 assists and had seven digs. Libero Natalia Skiba led all players with 19 digs.
JMU outhit Northeastern .273 to .148 and had a 3-1 edge in service aces. The Huskies picked up one more block than Madison, leading 8-7.
Northeastern got off to a hot start in the match, winning six of the first seven points to lead 6-1 in the first set. After a timeout by Steinbrecher, JMU won the next three points and slowly whittled the lead down before tying the set at 10-10. The entire set featured eight tie scores and five lead changes, but the Dukes took control late in the set with a 6-0 run to go up 21-17. A kill by Erb and a block by Kleespies brought the Dukes to set point before they forced an attack error to go up 1-0 in the match.
Set two was another tight battle, featuring 11 ties and seven lead changes. After Abel, Niski (two) and Erb all notched kills over a five-point span, JMU appeared in control with a 23-19 lead. A service error and three straight kills by the Huskies tied the set at 23-23 and forced the Dukes to take a timeout. Out of the strategy session, JMU got consecutive blocks from Briones assisted by Niski and Patterson to claim a 2-0 lead heading into the break.
Neither team lead by more than two points in the third set, until Madison went on a four-point run late to take a 23-19 advantage. A service error cut the lead back down to three, but a kill by Patterson on a jump ball at the net followed by a kill from Abel put the match away and powered the Dukes to the sweep.
JMU closes out its regular season on Saturday evening as it hosts Hofstra for a 7 p.m. match at Sinclair Gymnasium. A win by Madison clinches the either the fourth or fifth seed and would pair it with either Hofstra or William & Mary in the CAA Championship quarterfinals.
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