Volleyball: Wildcats try to shake off losses

James Carlton

With Northwestern’s loss to No. 21 Wisconsin on Wednesday, the team remains winless in the Big Ten. The Wildcats are the sole occupants of last place in a conference that is rapidly leaving them behind.

But the team is not dwelling on the losses and what has gone wrong. Coach Keylor Chan said every match in the Big Ten is still critical, insisting the team needs to stay relaxed and have a short memory regarding past defeats.

“We have to stay loose and be confident,” Chan said. “There are certain things you can and can’t control. And you can’t be so tight that it hampers your performance as a team.”

The Cats will try to heed that guidance Friday when they travel to East Lansing, Mich., to face the Spartans (10-5, 2-2 Big Ten).

Michigan State was 10-0 during September, closing the undefeated month with wins over Ohio State and then-No. 21 Michigan. The Spartans have lost their last two matches on the road, including a sweep at the hands of No. 1 Penn State. They will be looking to extend their six-match home winning streak against the Cats.

To win, NU needs to vanquish its demons against Michigan State. In each of their past three losses, the Cats have fallen behind 2-0 to start the match. The Cats recognize that another slow start could spell another defeat.

Sophomore middle blocker Naomi Johnson, who leads the team with 32 kills over the past three matches, said the team’s recent struggles are not from lack of enthusiasm or energy.

“We understand that we need to come out strong early in the match,” Johnson said. “It’s not a lack of talent, but we just have to be ready to play every single night. We’re all hyped up to play every match. Game night is the best night of the week.”

One question mark for the Cats heading into their match with the Spartans is who will play setter. Sophomore Elyse Glab had been the starter, but after the first set on Wednesday she was replaced by freshman Madalyn Shalter. Chan said the team needed a different look, and Shalter finished the match with 27 assists.

Entering play Wednesday, NU ranked ninth in the conference with 11.20 assists per game.

Despite the team’s inauspicious start, sophomore outside hitter Brittani Gray said the team remains optimistic about reaching its ultimate goal – qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.

“Our conference is wide open,” Gray said. “We’re looking to finish top-five (in the Big Ten) and we definitely still want to make the NCAA Tournament.”

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