NU upsets 1st ranked team of the year (Volleyball)

Ariel Alexovich

For a team looking to earn conference validation, what better way to do it than by beating the defending Big Ten champion?

The Northwestern volleyball team (13-8, 6-3 Big Ten) dominated No. 15 Wisconsin 3-0 Wednesday, capturing its first win over a ranked opponent this season.

Adding to their elation, the Wildcats broke their 27-game losing streak against the Badgers.

Before the match, NU and Wisconsin stood tied for third in the conference standings. Now that position belongs to the Cats alone, as the Badgers’ record dropped to 14-6 (5-4).

NU head coach Keylor Chan attributed the Cats’ win to their teamwork, with which they have struggled.

“They listened to our coaching and executed the plays almost to perfection,” Chan said.

A crucial part of NU’s energy became from its bench. Outside hitters Lindsay Pavlik and Cassie McKnight each notched two service aces, and Pavlik had two kills.

“The team off the bench did what we needed them to do,” junior outside hitter Iwona Lodzik said. “They showed heart, and we had great chemistry on the court.”

Led by junior middle blocker Erika Lange, who had 19 kills and a .500 hitting percentage in the match, NU took the first game easily, 30-22.

And Lange wasn’t the only star of the night. Lodzik posted 14 kills and 11 digs, and sophomore setter Drew Robertson racked up 46 set assists.

“I’m just so proud,” Chan said. “As a team, they had passion and vision. They played consistent, great volleyball.”

Down 25-18 in the second game, the Cats scored 11 of the next 14 points to take a 29-28 lead.

But the battle was far from over.

In their longest game in school history, the Cats saved seven of the Badgers’ game points to win 43-41.

Freshman outside hitter Christie Gardner said her team pulled out the win because they stayed focused and relaxed.

“We were really calm, which is great for us,” she said. “Usually we get frazzled.”

In the four timeouts during the lengthy second game, Chan gave his team feedback about its technique, but he insists that his words weren’t the deciding factor in the Cats’ win.

“There was no magic here tonight,” Chan said. “The girls deserve all the credit.”

Although the first half of the third game was close, NU broke away from Wisconsin at 20-18, going on a 5-1. And the Badgers never caught up, losing 30-24 to end the match.

The victory was especially sweet for Gardner, whose older sister Korie plays for the Badgers.

“It was really cool, but kind of sucked at the same time,” Gardner said.

Gardner said she tries not to think of Korie as her sister while head to head with her in competition. And off the court, Gardner doesn’t think of Korie as her Big Ten opponent.

“When I see her, we won’t talk volleyball,” Gardner said. “We’ll just say ‘good job’ and talk about something else.”

Lodzik said NU’s victory over Wisconsin proves to any doubters that the Cats are a legitimate threat in the conference.

“We needed this win to get respect,” Lodzik said. “A lot of people just thought we were lucky to have the ranking that we do.

“Now we’ve proved how good we are.”