Volleyball: Cats get split against Gophers, Hawkeyes

Jimmy Mitchell

In a weekend that was, much like the rest of Northwestern’s 2007 campaign, full of ups and downs, the Wildcats managed a 1-1 split going into the final week of the regular season.

The Cats (17-12, 8-10 Big Ten) traveled to Iowa City, Iowa, and defeated the Hawkeyes (9-20, 1-17), 3-1, on Friday. The Golden Gophers (17-11, 10-8) swept NU, 3-0, the following day in Minneapolis.

With one week of matches remaining, NU dropped into a tie for sixth place in the Big Ten standings.

The Cats’ performance this week against Indiana and Purdue, both conference opponents, will determine whether or not they will have an opportunity to play for the national championship.

“I definitely think we’re going to need to win both games this weekend in order to go to the tournament,” sophomore libero Kate Nobilio said.

The first of NU’s final four matches was against Iowa, a team that trails all other Big Ten schools by at least five matches in the conference standings. But the Cats did not capitalize early against the Hawkeyes, who surged with an 11-3 run to take a 15-11 lead Friday.

NU was forced to take a timeout, and would ultimately yield to another momentous Iowa streak to drop the first game, 30-19.

“We started off a little slow (against Iowa), but then we realized that this was such an important win for us in order to make it to the tournament,” Nobilio said. “So we obviously had to step it up.”

The Cats and the Hawkeyes traded points for much of game two until an 11-3 stretch gave NU a 30-21 victory. Junior middle blocker Chelsy Hyser came through for the Cats, finishing with seven kills and a perfect hitting percentage.

Iowa would storm back to take a 16-14 lead in the third game, but NU came from behind to take the set 30-24. The Hawkeyes led in game four as well, but the Cats struck back with a 9-3 run to take the final game, 30-27.

Hyser finished the match with a tremendous 63.6 hitting percentage and a career high of 24 kills.

“(Hyser) was really great. It was probably one of the best games she’s had here,” said Nobilio, who recovered from a week-long absence due to injury to gather a team-high 18 digs.

The Cats had a much more impressive start Saturday against Minnesota, a perennial Big Ten powerhouse, and held the lead for the first half of game one. After exchanging a series of runs with the Gophers, the Cats saw the score knotted at 25. But Minnesota would take the next five points, winning the game and setting the tone for the rest of the match.

The Gophers took a 20-9 lead in the second game and held off an NU comeback to take the set, 30-25. The Cats competed for the whole of the third game, but the Gophers edged NU for a 30-27 victory to complete the sweep.

As Saturday was Minnesota’s Senior Night, Nobilio feels that the Gophers might have accordingly received a boost in their play. But she still doesn’t excuse the Cats for not faring better against Minnesota.

“All the games were very close. But I still don’t think that we played up to our potential like we could have,” she said.

Reach Jimmy Mitchell at [email protected]