Volleyball: Northwestern takes down Iowa in straight sets

Sarah Tassoni/The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern setter Madalyn Shalter was a key part of the Wildcats' straight-sets win against Iowa on Sunday. Shalter recorded five blocks in the match.

Ryan Miller, Reporter

With a high energy performance and dominating play, Northwestern found the season’s first conference home win Sunday.

The Wildcats (14-7, 3-7 Big Ten) took down the Hawkeyes (10-13, 2-8) in straight sets in front of a receptive home crowd at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

The victory is the first home win for the Cats in more than a month, after a successful nonconference schedule and up-and-down conference road trips. The Hawkeyes have lost their last four away matches and are still searching for their third conference win.

Each team came out a little shaky in the first set, with an early service error from Iowa and multiple errors and blocks stopping the Cats from converting attacks into points. By 7-7, the two opponents started finishing points on their own accord, thanks to good outside hitting from the Hawkeyes and an effective slide attack delivered by senior setter Madalyn Shalter to NU’s middle attackers.

“Both of our middles, (Katie) Dutchman and (Savannah) Paffen, that’s one of their strengths. They hit the slide well,” Shalter said. “It’s a go-to for us.” 

The game remained even midway through the set, with each team trading kills and nobody coming up to stop them. Junior outside hitter Stephanie Holthus unloaded a huge attack from the outside at 15-13, firing up the crowd and forcing the Hawkeyes to take a timeout. NU continued with a well-timed setter dump from Shalter to take the game to 17-15.

The tension continued through to 21-19, where despite a great pancake dig from Holthus, the Hawkeyes made a statement of their own with a big attack from junior outside hitter Rachael Bedell. After an NU timeout, Iowa delivered a service ace to tie the game at 21-21. Two plays later, Holthus turned a less-than-perfect set into an impressive tool off the block, adding more evidence that the junior is one of the smartest players on the court. Holthus then executed another crowd-pleasing swing to close the set 25-22.

The second set began just like the first, with three service errors from both teams in the first 8 points. Iowa got off to a 7-3 start due to poor passing from NU. The Hawkeyes went on a small service run, which was ended by their own hitting error.

With Iowa up 9-7, the Cats delivered an exciting point in which almost every member of the NU squad hit the floor to make a countless number of athletic digs. The hustle excited the entire arena, including the small but very present student section. The Cats carried this momentum to an 11-10 lead, where the Hawkeyes had to take a timeout. 

Iowa came out of this timeout to tie the game at 14-14, but NU answered with another set of fantastic hustle plays. The Cats came up with a dig for everything the Hawkeyes threw at them and showed a level of energy sometimes absent from their plays. 

“Our attitude is to never stop until the referee blows his whistle,” senior libero Julie Chin said. “We go after the ball, chase it down, do whatever we need to do to get the ball up.”

This started the Cats on a 4 point run, and they allowed the Hawkeyes only 4 points through the end of the set.

“When you get a great dig or make a great play, it gets everybody excited,” Chin said. “You just want more of it. That’s how you build momentum.”

This momentum carried the Cats to a 25-18 second set victory, and into a quick batch of points at the start of the third set. Iowa fought back to tie the game at 6-6, but by then the Cats had an answer for the Hawkeyes.

NU was strong at the net in the third, with emphatic stuff blocks to end key plays and shut down any spark the Hawkeyes had left. The Cats finished the set with 5 blocks and won the third and final set 25-15.

Thanks to a high energy performance and impressive play on all parts of the court, the Cats were able to earn their third conference win and show fans – and maybe more importantly, themselves – that they know how to dictate points and maintain control throughout entire matches.

“You can’t make up for effort, no matter how talented you are,” coach Keylor Chan said. “Our team is always giving great effort, but tonight I thought their effort was outstanding.”

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