In the midst of a noteworthy sports weekend for Northwestern, the Wildcats quietly fell in a straight sweep to the No. 16 Michigan Wolverines on Sunday.
By dropping three games by the scores of 30-24, 30-19, and 30-22, the Cats (10-7, 1-5 Big Ten) lost their fifth straight match, all to Big Ten opponents. The Wolverines (15-3, 3-3) rebounded from losing three of their last four against conference opponents.
NU opened play in the Big Ten with a come-from-behind victory at Ohio State on Sept. 21. The win was the Cats’ first in a conference opener in the last five years. Since then, they have yet to win against both ranked and unranked Big Ten teams.
“We’ve had a tough string of matches lately but are looking to get back on track,” senior outside hitter Lindsay Anderson said. “We’ve been training hard in the gym and still believe we have the talent and the heart to be successful in the Big Ten this year.”
When the match began Sunday at Cliff Keen Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich., things looked like they were beginning to turn around for the Cats. NU got off to an 8-4 lead in the first game with the support of junior middle blocker Chelsy Hyser and freshman outside hitter Brittani Gray. The pair combined for five kills and a block during the early run.
After calling a timeout, Michigan rallied to take a one-point lead halfway through the game. NU continued its solid play and held a 19-17 lead until the Wolverines responded with a run of their own. Michigan closed out the first game, propelled by a 13-5 run.
The Wolverines were dominant in game two, taking a 9-3 lead and never looking back. The Cats struggled valiantly in the closing game, trailing by only one halfway through the set. But Michigan exploded to win the final game by eight points and complete the sweep.
NU’s play against Michigan was indicative of many of the struggles the team has had during its losing streak. Unable to pull away when in the lead, the Cats also committed 25 unforced errors during the match, a dozen more than their opponents.
“Consistency has been a big factor (during the losing streak),” senior middle blocker Brittney Aldridge said. “There’s so much talent in the Big Ten this year. Whoever wants it the most that particular night is who’s going to win.”
Aldridge led NU with a .368 hitting percentage Sunday. She was one of only four teammates to have positive hitting percentages at the match’s end. Gray led the squad with 10 kills, while freshman setter Elyse Glab had 32 assists and sophomore libero Kate Nobilio had a match-leading 24 digs.
Still, it wasn’t enough for NU.
“Obviously the match could have gone better,” Aldridge said. “But it’s important to have games like this in the beginning of the season when there’s room for improvement.”
Aldridge was very direct when asked what the team has to do differently for NU’s luck to change.
“We all have to step it up,” she said.
Reach Jimmy Mitchell at [email protected]