Volleyball: NU splits weekend with duo of Great Lakes State schools

Sarah Kuta

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Coach Keylor Chan is perfectly fine with a little bullying, especially if it means a Big Ten win.

Northwestern lost the opening set to Michigan State 20-25, but managed to push around the Spartans in the last three sets (25-23, 25-18, 25-22) for a four-set victory. The win marked the Cats’ third straight Big Ten victory, a feat NU hadn’t accomplished since 2007.

When the teams met in October, NU struck first and took the opening set, but couldn’t finish out the final three. This time the Cats were relentless.

“That’s huge to learn how to pick on things enough to cause another team to err,” Chan said. “They broke down at the end but it was more because of what we were doing.”

NU carried its bullying mentality into Saturday, but wasn’t able to sustain the mean streak against No. 15 Michigan (20-7, 8-6). The Cats came out energized to take the opening set 25-21, but the Wolverines proved too much and won the final three sets 17-25, 12-25, 17-25.

Though the Cats split the weekend, one theme was evident throughout both matches – NU was a dominant defensive force at the net. Against Michigan State, NU finished with an 18-5 block advantage. On Saturday, it was the same story: The Cats held a 17.5-4 advantage over the Wolverines.

“We’re driven by our middles and when they’re on, it’s hard to stop us,” Chan said.Leading NU’s blocking force were junior middle blockers Sabel Moffett and Naomi Johnson. Moffett tied her career-best with 10 blocks, which earned her Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors. Johnson tied her personal high, adding seven blocks against the Spartans. Moffett’s nine block assists on the night moved her into ninth place in school history with 251 career block assists.

Moffett and Johnson also headed up NU’s offense at the net, contributing 17 kills each. Johnson finished with no errors on 25 attempts for a career-best .680 hitting percentage.

The Cats held an early lead over the Spartans during the opening set, but after a 6-1 run, Michigan State pulled ahead 13-8. NU managed to cut the lead to 18-17, but wasn’t able to hold off a 25-20 victory for the Spartans.

Michigan State led early in the second set 15-10, but the Cats rallied to tie the match at 22. Senior libero Kate Nobilio kept the momentum rolling with a last-second shot over the net, putting the Cats in the lead 23-22. After that, there was no looking back.

“Usually we shut down, but we were able to keep a steady pace and push through,” Moffett said.

NU took an early lead in the final two sets, and though the Spartans would tie each set twice, the Cats pulled through.

Part of that persistence came from freshman libero Julie Chin, who was injured during the week’s practice. Chin, who is in line to replace Nobilio next year, helped boost the team’s confidence during sets two and three, adding two service aces and five digs against the Spartans.

“She had a lot of good digs for us on crucial points,” Moffett said.

As the Cats head into the final games of the regular season, the NCAA tournament remains in their sights.

“We all know what’s at stake,” Moffett said. “Every game we have to be on point.”sarahkuta2012@u.northwestern.edu