Women’s Volleyball: Cats dig deep, fall to top-10 foe Minnesota

Katherine Driessen

In the first set against No. 6 Minnesota, unranked Northwestern rained down kills and put up blocks like top-10 stalwarts. It looked as though the Wildcats would deliver an upset.

“A lot of teams come in and look at us like we’re the stepchild of the Big Ten,” junior middle blocker Sabel Moffett said. “But we came out strong and showed that we can really be a threat to top-10 teams.”

NU came back from a 14-10 deficit in the first set by knocking down six straight points to take the set 25-23.

“We’re not realistically going to be able to play that way against a top-10 team for the whole game,” coach Keylor Chan said. “But it was good to see that we could come out strong.”

NU’s middle blockers dominated the opening set. Redshirt freshman Kathryn Chrystal knocked down four kills, and juniors Moffett and Naomi Johnson notched three apiece.

“We showed up big in the first set,” Johnson said. “We came out less excited in the second match, and we got stuck in a rotation where we just weren’t scoring.”

But Johnson, a Minnesota native, was all about scoring. Even though she hugged several Gophers who were former club teammates after the game, Johnson showed no mercy on the court. Johnson used her 6-foot-3 stature to lead the team with 13 kills, while notching five blocks on defense.

“I always play my best game against Minnesota,” Johnson said. “I’m just sad that we couldn’t pull this one out and push it to five sets.”

The Cats’ two conference victories were five-set wins against Indiana and Purdue, but they could not force a fifth set against the Gophers. After a strong first set win, NU lost its stride and dropped the next three sets 25-18, 25-21, 25-23. The Cats rallied to tie the score at 20, 21 and 22 in the fourth set.

“There’s no consolation for losing,” Chan said. “But it was good to see us put ourselves in the position, at least in the beginning, to take down a top-10 team.”

The Cats kept on par with the Gophers defensively, posting a team total of 16 blocks, two more than the Gophers’ 14. Senior libero Kate Nobilio led both teams in digs, posting 27 on the night. Nobilio is now seven digs away from 2,000 career digs.

While the match looked close on the stat sheet, Moffett said she thought the team was lacking a less tangible element.

“It really just came down to not having enough heart out there,” she said. “Anyone can beat anyone else in the Big Ten; it’s just a matter of wanting it. We play really well at the beginning and then let ourselves fall behind before we decide that we should probably pick it up.”

Moffett’s assessment was most evident in the second set. The Cats battled closely with the Gophers, swapping the lead until the teams were tied at 17. The momentum switched on the next point, when the Gophers went on an 8-1 run and closed out the second set defensively.

“Certainly we’re not pleased with (Saturday’s) loss,” Chan said. “But what we’re doing right now is cultivating an identity, and tonight was the first time that we really challenged a top-10 team. We’ve just got to figure out how to capitalize on that.”

[email protected]