Volleyball: Nobilio digs her way to success

Sarah Kuta

Senior libero Kate Nobilio is the Big Ten’s active leader in digs. She is Northwestern’s all-time dig leader and a four-year starter. She is a three-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week.

Her coaches respect her. Her teammates admire her. Other teams shy away from her. She is fierce.

Kate Nobilio is also a giggler.

“It’s real subtle, it’s not obnoxious or anything,” coach Keylor Chan said. “It’s pretty endearing.”

Nobilio and the Wildcats (11-9, 2-6 Big Ten) travel to Iowa and Wisconsin this weekend to conclude the first half of the Big Ten season. Nobilio is seven digs away from collecting her 2,000th. If she reaches that milestone, Nobilio will become the fifth conference player to achieve the feat.

But as far as Nobilio is concerned, 2,000 is just another number. After surpassing it, she’ll keep on digging.

“I’m just going to keep digging for my team and keep putting myself out there,” she said.

Nobilio’s defense propelled NU to a first-set victory over No. 6 Minnesota last weekend. She notched a set-high eight digs to help halt the Gophers, 25-23, during the opening frame.

Though NU lost the match, the first-set win over a top-10 team proved the Cats have the potential to beat Iowa and Wisconsin. Depending on how the rest of the conference plays, doing so could move NU from ninth to sixth place in the Big Ten standings, behind four top-15 nationally ranked teams.

“There’s a lot on the line this weekend,” Chan said. “But there’s still a lot of volleyball left. You start to see how it’s (playing) out in the conference. All these teams know that if you want to make a push, this is the time you have to.”

Iowa (10-10, 2-6) and NU are tied for ninth in the conference. Though the teams are comparable in record, Iowa showed it could compete with the best earlier this month. The Hawkeyes managed to take one set from top-ranked Penn State before falling to the two-time, reigning NCAA champions in four. The Hawkeyes were the first team to take a set from the Nittany Lions this season or last.

Outside hitter Megan Schipper and defensive specialist Christina Meister are both four-year starters for the Hawkeyes. But Iowa’s experience doesn’t deter NU sophomore outside hitter Alexandra Ayers, who added nine kills and six digs against Minnesota.

“We’re not the type of team to be intimidated,” she said. “We try to come out cocky. We’ve come to find this season that when we come out timid, we get down on ourselves and lose points pretty fast.”

If the Cats defeat the Hawkeyes Friday, they’ll have plenty of momentum for Wisconsin.The Badgers (9-8, 4-4) currently rank fifth in the Big Ten, notching wins over then-No. 8 Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State.

The Cats have not won in Madison, Wis., since 1986, a span of 22 matches. Chan is optimistic that this year will be different.

“There’ve been a lot of heartbreakers there,” Chan said. “But our biggest thing is not so much about win or loss. If we can go play good volleyball, which is something we can control, the outcome will take care of itself.”

Nobilio is certain the outcome will be positive. Because she will do just about anything to get the dig, her roommate and backline teammate looks to her for guidance on the court and insight between sets.

“She can be standing in the back corner waiting for a hit, and it’ll be a tip,” Ayers said. “She’ll be the only one going for it. People know they shouldn’t go for it because they’ll just get in Kate’s way. I’m so lucky to be on the team with her.”

[email protected]