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McAlpin kneels during national anthem, Huskies start MAC play with win over Western Michigan

DeKALB – Chrystal McAlpin became the latest athlete to make a protest during the national anthem.

The sophomore Northern Illinois volleyball player took a knee during the national anthem before the Huskies defeated Western Michigan in four sets in the conference opener on Thursday night at Victor E. Court.

Not standing during the national anthem, a movement made popular by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as a form of protest against police brutality that has seen more and more athletes join him, has been met with controversy around the country. However, McAlpin, who is black, said kneeling was a spur of the moment decision – even Huskies coach Ray Gooden wasn’t aware she would do it.

“For me, it was about taking part of the peaceful protest and constantly raising awareness and bringing more attention to the matter of the issue,” McAlpin said. “I was worried about what the audience would think in a way because I know it’s not widely talked about, but I wasn’t worried about placing myself into it. ... With the recent shootings the past week, it made me realize it can happen to anyone.”

Gooden, who is also black, admitted it would have been nice to been notified that she was going to do it, but also said that he wouldn’t be surprised if more and more athletes use a similar method of protest.

“I think there’s such a rush to judgment on everything, I think it’s more important to understand the pride we have in each other than it’s about I’m standing for something or against something,” Gooden said. “As a black man, it’s really hard. It’s really hard to say I can’t agree with her or disagree with her because there’s a lot of things going on. Her and I will talk about it and we’ll go from there. ... It would have been nice for me to know. I’m okay admitting I didn’t know about it, but I think the conversation is important afterward to talk about it.”

McAlpin said she understood that some critics of the movement have claimed that it’s anti-military. However, she said that’s not the case and that she would be open to continue to kneel during the anthem.

“It was completely out of respect, I know plenty of veterans, I have family members who have fought in wars. I am very proud to be an American,” she said. “I have a strong belief, so as long as it’s not bringing any negative (attention) to NIU and the volleyball team and not distracting us for what we have to get done here in the MAC.”

As far as the volleyball was concerned, the Huskies’ win is the seventh consecutive over the Broncos.

Mary Grace Kelly led the way with 14 kills for the Huskies (9-4 overall, 1-0 in MAC West) and Jenna Radtke and Taylor Krage added 10. Chandler Kinley had 22 assists and Sam Boever added 16 assists for the setters, Krage added 16 digs and Anna Brereton had three aces.

In the opening set, the Broncos made six serving errors but still managed to escape with a 25-23 win nearly letting the Huskies storm back and steal it. Western Michigan held a 20-14 lead before the Huskies took a 23-22 lead but couldn’t put the Broncos away.

“The start was a little shaky,” Kelly said. “I think it was us being too excited being home for the first time in a month and the beginning of conference.”

The Huskies bounced back with a dominant second set with a 25-13 victory, including an impressive 6-0 run late in the frame that had two aces by Brereton. After a rough first set by Kelly – she went 1 for 11 on hitting attempts – she had a 6 for 8 performance in the second frame.

Leading wire-to-wire in the third set, the Huskies scored the first five points of the frame before cruising to a 25-15 victory. The Broncos got the first point of the fourth set, but the Huskies answered with a 6-0 run and never relinquished their lead the rest of the way.

Prior to the match, Gooden was awarded a ceremonial volleyball by Northern Illinois athletic director Sean Frazier for breaking the school record for wins by a volleyball coach earlier this season. With the win on Thursday, Gooden has 273 victories in his 15-year career.

“It was really cool,” Radtke said of her coach being honored. “He’s done a really good job here so it was good to see him get recognition for the wins and it’s really good for this program, too.”

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