Cats look to bolster NCAA tourney chances in road trip to Hoosier State (Volleyball)

Nick Halpern and Nick Halpern

After playing three straight matches against ranked teams, the Northwestern volleyball team (17-11, 8-8 Big Ten) will get a reprieve in the Hoosier State as they travel to play Indiana (11-16, 4-12) and Purdue (12-15, 5-11).

This will be the second meeting for the Wildcats against both teams. In the first matches, NU defended their home floor and swept both teams 3-0.

While these two teams are out of contention, they can still play the role of spoiler. But don’t expect them to catch NU off guard.

“We can’t look past any team because every team in the Big Ten is basically even,” said Christie Gardner.

Another reason not to take this weekends games for granted is that going on the road is a different animal.

“In the Big Ten, it’s all about winning at home,” said coach Keylor Chan. “Road games are .500 at best.”

As it stands, NU is .500 in the Big Ten with two more pairs of weekend games. To qualify for the NCAA tournament, the team’s stated goal, they will have to win at least two of the next four games to be in contention for a bid.

The games this weekend are especially crucial since next weekend brings Michigan and Michigan State to Evanston, teams that dominated the Cats during their earlier games and are also jockeying for tournament seeding.

However, the past doesn’t scare the Cats.

“There’s not a team in the Big Ten we can’t beat,” said Jill Buschur. “We just focus on one game at a time.”

The last meeting against the Indiana schools was the beginning of a revival for NU. Coming off an embarrassing weekend against the two schools from Michigan, Chan decided to bring back the scheme from last year that brought the Cats their most successful season in more than a decade.

“We’re comfortable with it and we have a lot of the same people playing the same positions as last year,” said Buschur. “We feel more comfortable doing it.”

Since that point, the Cats have won six of their eight matches, splitting their four games against ranked teams and backing up their claim that they are a legitimate threat for the postseason.

Also coinciding with the introduction of the system has been strong play from Leah Delcourt. She has had to deal with nagging injuries the past two seasons, but now that she is finally healthy, Delcourt has sparked the Cats.

“Her play has really helped bring a level of excitement,” said Chan. “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.”

This road trip also marks the last time the team will go on the road with its three seniors, Erika Knavel, Erika Lange and Iwona Lodzik.

“We just want to have a better season and end higher that we did last year,” said Lange. “(We want to) make it to the second round and represent the program well.”