Trailing 10-8 late in the fifth set and needing a spark, women's volleyball senior outside hitter Mackenzie Kitchel subbed back into her last game at Worthen Arena on Senior Night.

While the Cardinals were able to tie the set at 11, the comeback attempt fell just short as Northern Illinois went on a 4-1 run to close out the 3-2 (13-25, 25-23, 14-25, 25-23, 12-15) win.

“Honestly, I tried not to think about it all because I really didn’t want this to be the last time I played in this arena,” Kitchel said. “I tried to just play normal and I think that’s why we had such a successful match.”

Match Leaders:

Kills: Sabrina Mangapora, 14

Assists: McCallen Kennedy, 21

Digs: Kate Avila, 31

Blocks: Sydnee VanBeek, 6

Kitchel finished her final career regular season match with 6 kills, 2 digs and 5 blocks.

“She’s gives her all to the program in everything she does,” head coach Kelli Miller said. “She earned all the applause that she got tonight.”

After being swept by Northern Illinois 3-0 in their first meeting Oct. 7, the Cardinals played with a different attitude in the match Nov. 12 by taking the Huskies to 5 sets thanks to some strong play from the back line.

“When we’re able to play defense how we did tonight it just frustrates our opponents,” Miller said. “I think when you’re playing defense like that then you have a chance to beat anybody.”

The Cardinals started off the match slow, falling behind 14-6 early in the first set, and weren’t able to recover as they dropped the first set 25-12.

“I think we took too long in set one to get it going and it gave them a little too much momentum right out of the gate,” Miller said. “Once we did get it going and get the wheels turning, we were right there with them.”

The Cardinals played with a faster pace in the second set with junior outside hitter Sabrina Mangapora recording 5 kills in the second set alone.

“I had to mix up my shots, I knew that was how I was going to have to score against a team like that,” Mangapora said. “I went cross-court, I went down the line, you just have to just keep seeing what’s going to work.” 

Mangapora would finish the match with 14 kills, 2 digs and 2 assists.

After dropping the third set 25-14 and falling behind 2-1 in the match, the Cardinals responded with a 25-23 fourth set win to force a fifth set.

The fifth set didn’t start the Cardinals way as they fell behind 8-3 early, but they got on a run when sophomore defensive specialist Carly Capello came into the match to serve.

Capello had two aces and brought the Cardinals to within one at 8-7. Ball State was able to tie the set at 11 late, but a few big blocks at the end of the match for Northern Illinois helped them prevail and get their 23rd win of the season.

The effort to take the number one team in the MAC West to a fifth set could play a major role in the team’s success in the postseason, Kitchel says.

“That fifth set, we were down and fought back, you could just see on all the girls' faces how much they wanted it,” Kitchel said. “That fight is going to be important in the MAC Tournament — it’s anyone’s game then.”

The Cardinals (13-19, 9-7 MAC) will begin play in the MAC Tournament in DeKalb, Illinois Nov. 17.