Volleyball: Cats win Big Ten pair, move into 6th place in conference

Sarah Kuta

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As far as coach Keylor Chan is concerned, he was just a spectator at Saturday night’s win over Iowa.

“There was no coaching involved, it was all the girls,” he said.

Northwestern (16-14, 7-11 Big Ten) moved into sixth place in the Big Ten this weekend with victories against Wisconsin and Iowa. The Wildcats’ four-set win over Wisconsin (11-16, 6-12) was the team’s first victory against the Badgers since 2003.

Though the Cats lost the third set of the match and battled for the win with 19 lead changes and 40 ties, Chan was unfazed.

“Pretty or ugly, you just want to get the Ws,” he said. “This late in the season, it doesn’t matter how you do it.”

NU’s middle blockers were vital in the win over Wisconsin. Junior middle blocker Naomi Johnson led the Cats with 13 kills and a career-best eight blocks. Junior middle blocker Sabel Moffett added 10 kills and six blocks. Redshirt freshman middle blocker Kathryn Chrystal contributed seven kills and seven blocks.

Neither team was able to initially establish itself as a leader, with 17 ties and nine lead changes in the first set. Wisconsin notched two points following a 21-21 tie, but the Cats rallied for the set’s final four points and to take it 25-23.

During the second set, the Cats battled back again with an 11-2 run after the Badgers led 20-14.

Wisconsin commanded set three, leading by a seven point margin at 19-12. The Cats pulled within a point at 20-19, but it wasn’t enough. The Badgers went on a 5-1 run to take the third set.

In the fourth set, the Cats’ defense zoned in and took away the Badgers’ scoring options. After a Wisconsin lead at 8-3, NU roared back to tie the set at 15 and then again at 19. The Cats took control one more time to outscore the Badgers 6-2, stealing the set and the match.

“The block and the defense were really in line,” Chrystal said.

Both Johnson and Chrystal said the defense did a good job funneling the ball to libero Kate Nobilio, who notched 23 digs on the night and upped her season total to 469.

On senior night against Iowa, Nobilio’s family and friends supported her, sporting specially-made “We dig Nobilio” T-shirts. She led the Cats’ defensive efforts against the Hawkeyes with 21 digs. For her efforts against Wisconsin and Iowa, Nobilio was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week for the third time this season.

The Cats scored on the opening serve of set one and never looked back. NU led by as many as 11 points before stealing set one 25-15.

Though the Hawkeyes were able to tie the second set seven times, the Cats proved too much. In set three, they took an early 10-3 lead before taking the set and the match 25-15.NU dominated with a .364 hitting percentage, compared to the Hawkeyes’ .060. The Cats also finished with a 9-3 block edge.

NU lost in three sets to Iowa in October, but the Cats were a more determined and experienced team this time around.

At sixth place in the conference, NU must win at least one of its final two games to be serious contenders for an NCAA Championship invitation. Even if the Cats do not play in the tournament, Chan said he is impressed with his team’s improvement throughout the season.

“I like the way we’re playing, and regardless of what a committee thinks, I think we’ve come a long way,” he said.sarahkuta2012@u.northwestern.edu