Wildcats prep for tough Big Ten stretch

Sarah Kuta

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For Northwestern, there is a direct correlation between effort and good fortune.

“One match, it just seemed like everything was going our way,” senior Ariel Baxterbeck said. “(Coach Keylor Chan) called a time out and told us, ‘the harder you work. the luckier you get.’ It just seems like when you’re working hard, those points will go your way.”

Though luck may have something to do with it, the team’s experience has helped the Wildcats win three straight tournaments, including a sweep at home last weekend at the 28th Annual Wildcat Classic. With a 9-3 record, NU has surpassed its 2008 win total of eight in one month of play. NU graduated just two seniors from last year’s roster.

For Chan, the early success this season is a result of the team shifting its focus.

“Everyone knows what to expect,” Chan said. “We’re really enjoying the journey together, and that’s a change from last year. We’re more driven about enjoying the process than we are about the final results.”

Chan’s philosophy is that the team cannot control every aspect of the game, but it can always learn something from defeat. NU proved its resiliency in its first victory of the season over Western Carolina in straight sets after falling to Kentucky and Florida International in the Kentucky Classic.

“As much as we like to control things, you have to learn to assess them and evaluate them for what they are,” Chan said. “You have to move on and learn something. We’ve done that.”

At the IUPUI Jaguar Hampton Inn Invitational, the Cats dropped their first set 25-18 against Miami (Ohio), but rallied to win the match.

Later in the day, the Cats shut out host IUPUI 3-0 (25-16, 25-17, 25-6), handing the Jaguars their first defeat of the season. NU lost its final match of the tournament against Western Kentucky in four sets.

Because all three teams finished the weekend with a 2-1 record, the Cats won the tie-breaking thanks to having the highest set-winning percentage.

Baxterbeck said she thought the team’s intangibles, including team chemistry and an awareness of how the other players would react on the court, have contributed to NU’s success.

“We did not have that togetherness last year,” Baxterbeck said. “There’s just more overall excitement about the team.”

The Cats won their second tournament of the season at the Comfort Suites 49er Tournament the following weekend, sweeping Presbyterian and James Madison in three sets each. NU defeated Charlotte in four sets, losing the second 25-19.

Junior Elyse Glab said the team’s attitude is vastly different from last season. The new demeanor has contributed to increased on-court chemistry and poise, aspects of the game that are indefinable but necessary for a win.

“As a team, we decided that we didn’t want a season like last season again,” Glab said. “We’re more relaxed, more at ease, and that allows us to play better.”

NU played its first home game last weekend at the 28th Annual Wildcat Classic before the start of Big Ten play. The Cats swept Akron, Long Island and Cincinnati in three sets each to win the tournament.

“We knew we’d have a tough match against Cincinnati, and to sweep them was just awesome,” Baxterbeck said. “It really sets the tone for the season.”

The Cats play two-time defending NCAA champion Penn State, who is ranked first in the country, and Ohio State this weekend.

“If we can continue to grow and learn, I’m sure some matches won’t go our way, but I think more will than won’t,” Chan said.