Volleyball: Latest loss causes consternation

James Carlton

Iowa already had cut Northwestern deep on Friday. The next night, No. 15 Minnesota rubbed salt in its wounds.

The Golden Gophers (22-6, 12-4 Big Ten) made quick work of the Wildcats on Saturday night, sweeping them in just over an hour. The defeat continued the Cats’ season-long tailspin, as they lost their fourth straight contest and eighth in nine matches. The night before, Iowa (14-14, 6-10) had delivered NU (8-19, 2-14) a devastating blow, coming from behind for a heartbreaking 3-2 victory at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

After losing the final two sets of that match, the players were left struggling for words.

“It’s just rough,” sophomore setter Elyse Glab said.

Coach Keylor Chan elaborated on the team’s disappointment.

“It’s frustrating because, statistically, we dominated,” he said. “But it’s about wins and losses and we lost tonight.”

After NU dropped the opening set to Iowa, the second set was packed with drama and excitement. The teams changed leads six times and there were 14 ties. But NU won the last four points, including the final two off-service aces from Glab, to take the set 25-22.

The Cats used that momentum to jump out to a 4-0 lead in the third set and never looked back. NU led the entire set, which was highlighted by two nearly identical crushing kills from sophomore middle blocker Naomi Johnson that put the Cats comfortably in the driver’s seat with a 24-10 lead.

After the first, Chan pumped his fist and watched as junior libero Kate Nobilio miraculously kept the next point alive with an athletic dig, allowing Glab to again set up Johnson for another resounding kill. Glab finished the match with 59 assists, her season high, and the second-highest count in the conference this year for a single game.

But after that it was disappointment and defeat for the Cats. They lost painfully close games in the fourth and fifth sets, including 15-13 in the finale. Despite her individual effort, Glab was dejected about the loss.

“To be so close and not finish,” she said, “it hurts a lot. We let the fifth set get away from us. We didn’t come out and grab it.”

Chan said the Iowa result was emblematic of many of the problems that have plagued the team this season, including an inability to close out close matches and play at a consistent level.

“We need to learn to finish,” he said. “We’re in 80 percent of our matches, but there’s an emotional part of the game that we haven’t mastered. We have a lot of maturing to do. We can’t play as well as we did in sets two and three and then as badly as we did in the last two.”

Chan said the team struggled with handling the extreme pressure of the final set. He added that the team was playing like it needed to win the match on each individual point instead of looking at the “big picture.”

“We made the moment too big,” he said. “These are lessons we have to learn as we continue to grow.”

The Cats played the Gophers on Saturday in front of a season-high 1,305 fans, but fell behind early. NU did not lead in any set until the first point of the third set, before falling 25-12. NU was simply no match for Minnesota, which had the advantage in every major statistical category. Like clockwork, the Gophers blocked and killed nearly every ball, registering 10 more kills and assists and scoring at a .326 clip, far above the Cats’ .038.

Chan said the weekend stung but cautioned his team not to allow the losses to overpower its competitive will.

“Pain is an impetus for change,” he said. “You can’t become so callused that you accept losing. I know this team isn’t like that and we’re going to try to grow and mature the rest of the way. I think next year could be the rising of the phoenix for us.”

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