Volleyball: Wildcats look to end road trip on high note
October 16, 2012
It was a rollercoaster of a weekend for Northwestern as the Wildcats visited the state of Michigan, scoring a big win over then-No. 25 Michigan State on Friday only to follow with a straight-set loss to Michigan the next day.
The Cats (13-6, 2-6 Big Ten) are back in their home state Wednesday night to face No. 25 Illinois (9-9, 3-5) in Champaign. They will have to prove whether the NU squad that took the court against Michigan State is the team fans can expect to see the rest of the season, or if Saturday’s game against Michigan is a clearer predictor of things to come.
For the Cats, there is no question which game is the truer representation. Sophomore middle blocker Katie Dutchman said the motivation and focus gained from their big win will have a greater impact than any setbacks Saturday’s loss may have caused.
“We came off of a good win against Michigan State this weekend,” Dutchman said. “And after not playing as well as we wanted to at Michigan, we’re ready to get back into the winning groove.”
The Cats will have to take on another ranked opponent in Illinois to return to this groove. The Fighting Illini also earned a win against Michigan State last week, which followed a 3-0 loss to Michigan.
Illinois has fought to advance its current 9-9 record after a tough non-conference season and looks to improve its 3-5 conference record with a win over NU.
Fortunately for NU, the Fighting Illini have struggled with a 2-4 home record this season. NU has a 5-2 road record coming into Wednesday night’s game, better than its 3-4 home mark.
Although the Fighting Illini won six of the last seven meetings with the Cats, the combination of Illinois’ poor home performance and NU’s domination on the road may make Champaign’s Huff Hall just the place to pull out a win over the Illini this season.
If the Cats can sustain a high level of play in Champaign, they may be able to finish their three-game road trip on a high note. Maintaining control throughout sets and dictating points late in games has proven to be a problem for NU, but the team addressed these issues in recent practices.
Coach Keylor Chan focused on putting the team in difficult situations and creating scenarios to replicate the tight sets the Cats have become so familiar with.
Chan also has specific goals for tomorrow night’s match that the team must meet in order to pull out a win.
“We need to control their outside hitters to have a chance to really be successful,” Chan said. “We need to really serve well.”
The Cats have come up with big outside blocks earlier in the season, so Wednesday night’s game will all come down to execution.
If the Cats can capitalize on their continued success on the road and focus on shutting down Illinois’ powerful outside hitting, they can reach a 14-6 overall record and build the start of a strong conference run in upcoming matches.
Freshman defender Abbie Kraus is sure that the team can do just that.
"I think Illinois should be scared,” Kraus said. “We just came off a loss, we know that we can beat those ranked opponents, so we're just going to go out there and play and really execute."