NU looks to right ship at home against balanced Wisconsin (Volleyball)

Nick Halpern

The Northwestern volleyball team (16-11, 7-8 Big Ten) will look to rebound from a demoralizing loss to Illinois tonight against No. 23 Wisconsin (18-7, 10-4) at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

On Wednesday night, the Wildcats were outplayed by the Fighting Illini, who were knotted in a three-way tie for second place with Wisconsin and Minnesota behind Big Ten leader Penn State.

“It was a wake-up call,” said associate head coach Josh Grau. “A big win is temporary, and a big loss is temporary, too.”

NU needs to win tonight to avoid falling two games below .500 in the conference after finally getting even after last weekend’s sweeps of Iowa and Minnesota.

“It’s very important for the purposes of our quest to be above .500 in the conference,” said Grau. “It would also be considered a significant win since Wisconsin is in the top 25.”

Before the game against Illinois, the Cats had won five of six matches against tough competition and were playing as well as they had all season.

“We certainly lost momentum during the course of the match,” Grau said. “Only time will tell if we’ve lost (long-term) momentum.”

NU will have to keep several Badgers in check, including outside hitters Aubrey Meierotto, Jill Odenthal and Lisa Zukowski, if they are going to avoid losing to Wisconsin for the second time this season.

“They’re one of the most balanced Big Ten teams,” said Grau. “They don’t have just one player that sticks out and shines above the rest. We have to know their tendencies and their system, and just play physical volleyball.”

The key to victory against Wisconsin will be a strong defense that can’t key on just one player as they were able to do against Ohio State and Penn State. NU will have to rely on its front line to come up with blocks and pick up digs that get past the front line.

This style of game plays into the hands of Erika Lange and Iwona Lodzik. Lange holds the single-season record for block assists, and Lodzik leads the team with 2.95 digs per game.

NU has only five more matches to show that it belongs in the NCAA tournament. The Cats are only 2-3 against the teams remaining on their schedule, and they would have to reverse that record to return to the postseason.