By Nick Halpern
The last time the Northwestern volleyball team had a winning record in Big Ten play, the Cincinnati Bengals were playing in the Super Bowl and the Berlin Wall still stood. But after 15 years of futility, the Wildcats (10-6, 1-3 Big Ten) are ready to break through.
Junior setter Drew Robertson, who leads the team in assists and is among the leaders in digs, said Northwestern is setting its sights high.
“It’s taken us a couple of years to develop, but this year we will definitely be above .500,” Robertson said. “Our aim is to be in the top three, but we got off to a rough start. We definitely expect to be above .500.”
Losing is a strange feeling for Robertson. She played high school volleyball at Long Beach Poly, which ascended to a No. 9 ranking in the nation.
“It was an adjustment, since I was used to winning, and it was hard to get over,” Robertson said. “But all the teams I’ve played on have had to work to get to the top, and it’s no different here — even if it’s taking a couple of years.”
This young team has been quick to coalesce, due largely to the experiences they shared living together the month before school.
Robertson, as the “quarterback” of the team, has been an integral part of expediting the team’s bonding. The setter said she “likes being a leader on the court, and being part of every play.”
But that’s not the only reason she plays setter.
“I’m short — it’s the only position I can play,” she laughs.
NU opened with a 10-6 record despite recently losing three of their first four Big Ten matches. They battled No. 23 Wisconsin hard but fell short, and earned their first conference win of the season last weekend against Iowa.
This weekend, NU will take on two more tough opponents: Ohio State and Penn State. Ohio State sports one of the top players in the nation, outside hitter Stacey Gordon, who was named a first-team All American last year as a sophomore. Despite Gordon’s prowess, Robertson said Northwestern “won’t play defense any differently — we will go out there determined.”
Ohio State has had Northwestern’s number in the past, winning 36 of 49 match-ups.
No. 11 Penn State will be another challenge, but nothing Robertson thinks NU can’t handle. Despite the team’s struggles against the Big Ten thus far, Robertson is optimistic.
“I think we are better prepared than we were (in earlier Big Ten games). We have more experience and know what to expect.”