After losing its last three conference matches, the Northwestern volleyball team is looking to reverse its luck. The Wildcats have worked hard this season to earn respect within the conference, and nothing has frustrated them more than the loss of three spots in the Big Ten standings last weekend.
The Cats’ road to victory is going to get worse before it gets any better.
NU (13-11, 6-6 Big Ten) is on the road again this weekend, heading to Minnesota to take on the No. 7 Golden Gophers (24-3, 11-1) on Friday before going south to Iowa (16-8, 6-6) on Saturday.
Minnesota has dominated Big Ten play all season, dropping only one conference match — a five-game loss to Illinois — on Oct. 12.
But in the second Cats-Gophers matchup of the season, NU head coach Keylor Chan said his team is better prepared and has the energy to sustain a long match.
“It’s going to be one tough road trip,” Chan said. “But what we’ve learned lately is that getting our rest is important.”
The Cats will need more than a good night’s sleep to break Minnesota’s six-match winning streak. The last time the teams met, the Gophers swept NU 3-0 in Evanston on Oct. 6.
The Gophers are also enjoying their eighth consecutive week in the top 10 — the second-longest streak in school history.
Minnesota freshman Paula Gentil leads the conference in digs per game and, to make matters worse for NU, three of the Big Ten’s top four servers wear maroon and gold.
This week in practice, the Cats reviewed tape of the Gophers and now have a good understanding of what needs to be done to beat Minnesota. But do the Cats — who have yet to beat a top-10 opponent this season — stand a chance?
Chan thinks so.
“We have nothing to lose and everything to gain,” he said.
Because Minnesota dominated NU in Evanston, the Cats are hesitant to predict victory on the Gophers’ home court.
“Now we know we have to go to Minnesota and win there,” senior captain Kelli Meyer said earlier this season. “Their arena is going to be tough.”
As long as NU keeps its energy level high as it travels to Iowa City, the Cats stand a better chance against the Hawkeyes.
For the season, NU is 5-1 in Big Ten play in its first match of the week but only 1-5 in its second.
“I’ve asked the girls about (the record),” Chan said. “It must be a matter of being tired, but there’s no way we can prepare for these trends.”
Iowa — a team in the midst of a six-match losing streak — will take the court without starting setter Renee Hill. The junior suffered a knee injury that will keep her sidelined for the rest of the season.
The Cats easily swept the Hawkeyes on Oct. 4 but are treating both matches this weekend like they’re the most important of the season.
The ultimate goal is to return to Evanston with a pair of wins and some conference redemption.
“We have our hands full,” Chan said.