Volleyball: Cats snap 7-game skid with pair of victories

Jimmy Mitchell

The Northwestern fight song, traditionally sung by the players and the fans after a Wildcat victory, had not been heard in Welsh-Ryan Arena for quite some time. The Cats had lost seven consecutive matches going into last weekend and had not won at home since Sept. 15.

Thus, it was a fortunate sign for NU that the chants of “Go U Northwestern” were heard, not once, but twice this weekend.

The Wildcats (12-9, 3-7 Big Ten) upset No. 13 Minnesota (12-8, 5-5) in a five-game victory on Friday. Carrying the momentum from such a resounding victory, the team then went on to trounce the Iowa Hawkeyes (9-12, 1-9) in a sweep on Saturday. The weekend marked NU’s first and second conference victories since the Big Ten opener against Ohio State on Sept. 21.

“Every team in the Big Ten is capable of winning every night,” said senior outside hitter Lindsay Anderson after the team’s win Friday. “We had to believe tonight that we were the better team.”

The Wildcats certainly seemed to have the advantage in the early goings against the Golden Gophers. Deadlocked at nine in the first game, NU rolled to a 16-11 advantage with kills by freshmen outside hitter Brittani Gray and setter Elyse Glab. The Cats finished the set with a dominating 12-1 surge to win by a 14-point margin.

The following sets were much more contested. The Wildcats and the Gophers exchanged victories in games two through four, and each was decided by five points or less.

“Both teams were fighting hard and being really aggressive,” Anderson said.

The fierce competitiveness of the match even translated into a number of contested officiating calls from both the NU and Iowa benches. “There were a lot of little controversies and judgment calls that were made,” said NU head coach Keylor Chan. “The intensity of the match makes it really tough to officiate.”

The intensity was even more palpable during the fifth game that included several lead changes and match points for both squads.

Tied at 14, a would-be kill by Anderson landed just out of bounds and cornered the Cats into their last point. But the team rebounded – powered by kills by Gray and junior middle blocker Chelsy Hyser – and went on to win 17-15.

Saturday’s “Dig for the Cure” match helped contribute to the Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, and it may have helped fans’ nerves, many of whom were still anxious from the previous night.

NU did not drop a game to Iowa and won the final two sets by a combined 19 points.

Still, a Cats’ victory did not appear immediately to be a foregone conclusion. Down 27-29 in the first game, an early loss seemed inevitable. That was, until NU rattled off five straight points for a 31-29 victory.

“I don’t think we ever panicked,” said senior middle blocker Brittney Aldridge of the Cats’ deficit. “The moment they got ahead, we just took it one point at a time.”

The second half of the conference schedule starts this Wednesday, and NU has its work cut out for it. But remaining concerned with the past does not seem to bother the Wildcats.

“Our goal is that our history won’t define our present,” Chan said. “The only thing we can control is the future.”

Reach Jimmy Mitchell at [email protected]