Volleyball: Bump, set, crash: Cats fall

Jimmy Mitchell

The Wildcats were leading the ninth-ranked Badgers in the first game, 27-25, when Northwestern sophomores Kate Nobilio and Ariel Baxterback violently collided and fell, their bodies sprawled on the court. While neither sustained any injuries, the incident served as an ill-fated omen for the weekend.

NU proceeded to lose five of the next six points to drop the set again to Wisconsin and later went on to come up short in both of the weekend matches at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The Wildcats (10-5, 1-3 Big Ten) fell to Wisconsin (12-1, 4-0 Big Ten), 3-1, Friday and in a sweep to state rival Illinois (10-4, 2-2 Big Ten) Saturday.

Friday’s match was witness to a variety of long rallies and lead changes. In the first game alone, NU rebounded from two early four-point deficits. After dropping the first match in dramatic fashion, the Cats went on to be outplayed by the Badgers in the second game, 30-20.

NU recovered to win the third game, and the situation echoed a familiar instance in 2006 when the Cats came back from 0-2 against the Badgers to force a tie-breaking fifth set.

No such comeback was in store on Friday, as Wisconsin defeated NU 30-24 in the fourth game.

“We played hard, but we didn’t execute some of things we wanted to,” coach Keylor Chan said. “We really wanted to run the right side of the court, and we weren’t able to execute that.”

Picking up some of the slack were junior middle blocker Chelsy Hyser and freshman outside hitter Brittani Gray. Both put up impressive numbers for the Cats and contributed a combined 36 kills. Hyser lead the match with a whopping .560 hitting percentage, and Gray’s 21 kills are her high for the year.

Both were quick to give credit to their teammates.

“The setting was great tonight,” Gray said. “They were able to put it exactly where you needed it.”

Hyser particularly praised the play of senior setter Stephanie Jurivich. Coming off the bench to replace freshman Elyse Glab, Jurivich contributed 15 assists in the fourth game.

“My hitting percentage definitely correlates to her setting and the team’s passing,” Hyser said.

Saturday’s match against the Illini did not prove to be as well contested as Friday’s against the Badgers.

Game one was in NU’s reach until Illinois went on to win seven of the final 11 points. Game two saw the Illini lead climb as high as eight points.

The Cats lost each of the first two games by five points before blowing a pair of early three-point leads to drop the final game, 30-23.

In an intriguing move, Chan replaced defensive specialist Nobilio with sophomore Emma Pollert in the third game. Pollert made an impression with 11 digs, a high for both the team Saturday and her career. It was her first appearance of the year in conference play.

“Big Ten teams are more competitive than some of the teams in pre-season,” she said. “They have a lot of big girls and big hitters.”

After finishing the match versus Wisconsin on Friday, the Cats began to move past a difficult stretch of the schedule in which they played three ranked opponents. Only one of the Cats’ next four challengers, No. 16 Michigan, is in the Top 25.

Chan sees the early rough patch of Northwestern’s conference schedule as a help, not a hindrance.

“Good teams really show you what you have to work on,” he said. “And Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin have done that for us.”

Reach Jimmy Mitchell at [email protected]