Cats finish weekend strong despite slow start (Volleyball)

Nick Halpern

With their backs against the wall, the Northwestern volleyball team showed the grit that it will need down the stretch.

After being swept by No. 17 Penn State on Friday, and dropping the first game against Ohio State (9-11, 3-9), it would have been easy for NU (14-10, 5-7 Big Ten) to surrender to the Buckeyes. But the Wildcats were able to win three straight games to defeat Ohio State (21-30, 30-20, 34-32, 30-26) and salvage a split for the weekend.

The Cats’ opportunity to move to .500 in the Big Ten with a pair of weekend wins was thwarted on Friday against the Nittany Lions (20-4, 9-3), losing early leads in the first two games on their way to a sound defeat (30-25, 30-25, 30-19). Iwona Lodzik and Erika Lange recordeddouble-digit kills in the loss, and Leah Delcourt continued her strong play with four blocks.

“(Delcourt’s) play has really helped bring a level of excitement,” NU coach Keylor Chan said. “The sky is the limit if she can continue to play this way. Hopefully we can continue to lift Leah up and help her reach her potential.”

With their loss on Friday, the Cats needed to win on Saturday in Columbus — where they had not won in 19 years — against a team coming off a win against Illinois, one of the top teams in the conference.

“We could have easily felt sorry for ourselves after a tough travel weekend,” said Chan. “Winning on the road is tough in the Big Ten.”

NU started slowly, losing the first game that was littered with errors and poor execution.

Chan said the poor start was a combination of jet lag and traveling the same day.

“We realized that we had to play at a higher level,” Chan said. “After that we started playing much better as a team and understanding the game plan.”

NU was able to rebound from with a dominant second game. The final two games were back and forth, but NU sealed the victory behind strong play from Lange, Christie Gardner and Drew Robertson.

Despite failing to reach .500 in the conference, NU remains in a good position to qualify for postseason play.

“We’re in a really good position,” Chan said. “We still need to have to have a couple weekend sweeps but I think we’re right where we need to be. We’re playing good volleyball — three of our last four matches have been good.”