Road trip comes in midst of win streak (VOLLEYBALL)

Jimmy Mitchell

Winning four straight matches over a span of eight days was no easy task for the Wildcats. Until last week, no Northwestern volleyball team had gone 4-0 on a home stand since 1984.

But an even harder chore for NU may be to continue its hot play this weekend against one of the best teams in the nation – not to mention their intrastate Big Ten rivals.

Northwestern (14-9, 5-7 Big Ten) will travel to Champaign, Ill., to face Illinois (14-8, 6-6) tonight. No. 7 Wisconsin (19-2, 11-1) will then play host to the Cats on Saturday. This weekend will be the second time NU has faced each of its upcoming opponents.

The Cats were highly competitive against then-No. 9 Wisconsin but fell in four games Sept. 28. The Illini swept the Cats the following day in a Welsh-Ryan Arena brimming with Illinois fans. Both NU losses took place during the team’s seven-match losing streak.

Freshman setter Elyse Glab said the Cats aren’t concerned with any history or rivalry the opposition may have with NU.

“For us, it’s about just feeling right as a team and adjusting how we play every match to what the other team is doing,” she said.

As starting setter, Glab has provided the Cats with 12.3 assists per game, as well as with an energy inherent to the team’s core of young, enthusiastic players.

Alongside Glab is freshman middle blocker Naomi Johnson, who has received much more playing time in recent weeks. The last four NU wins have come in Johnson’s first four starts of her collegiate career.

“We’ve been so successful these last couple of weeks,” she said. “It’s been amazing and a really great experience.”

Instead of leading NU into chaos and disarray, the fusion of younger players and upperclassmen has seemed to put the Cats in the right direction for the rest of the 2007 season.

“We really had to figure out how to play as a team,” Johnson said. “We have so much talent on our roster, and now that we have chemistry with each other, we’re really playing for each other as well.”

For several weeks, NU did not defeat a conference opponent. Now, after upsetting two teams ranked in the Top 25 – Minnesota and Michigan – the Cats seem undaunted even against Wisconsin, the seventh-best team in the country.

“We know that any team in the Big Ten could lose on any night,” Johnson said. “Whatever team wants it the most is who will win.

“And we want it so bad.”

Reach Jimmy Mitchell at [email protected]