Moffett’s performance leads Cats past Gophers, into Top 20

Dan Ryan

Coming off a heartbreaking five-set loss against No. 7 Illinois last weekend, Northwestern entered the weekend at No. 24 nationally and looking to prove they could beat the best of the Big Ten.

“You put so much into that match,” coach Keylor Chan said. “But every time you lose, it teaches you something.”

A career-best performance by senior middle blocker Sabel Moffett proved more than enough for the Wildcats (15-2, 5-1 Big Ten) as they took down Iowa (6-9, 1-5) in three sets on Friday and upset then-No. 16 Minnesota (14-4, 4-2) on Sunday in Evanston.

Moffett recorded 14 blocks against Minnesota, the second-highest single-game total in program history.

The first set, however, did not give any hint of the performance that would come. The Gophers came out firing to start the match, effectively executing in every facet and taking the first set 25-20.

But as they have done so often in the season, the Cats bounced back.

“Minnesota played phenomenal volleyball in the first set,” Chan said. “We weathered the storm.”

Fueled by Moffett’s career game and a strong performance by senior outside hitter Christina Kaelin (13 kills, 1 block), NU settled into a rhythm and rallied to take the next three sets 25-21, 25-22, 25-21, sealing the match by a final of 3-1.

“Minnesota is a very strong team offensively,” Moffett said. “I just went out there and tried to play good defense.”

Moffett’s mindset paid off, as her 14 blocks earned her Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week and sixth place on NU’s all-time total blocks list with 443.

Such a Herculean effort was not needed against Iowa.

NU took the court against the Hawkeyes on Friday, fresh off a deflating loss and with the high-profile matchup against Minnesota in the back of their minds.

As a weaker conference team, Iowa presented NU with a possible trap game sandwiched between two ranked opponents.

“We did talk about that,” sophomore outside hitter Madalyn Shalter said. “We knew we couldn’t overlook them.”

The Hawkeyes at one point had a 20-18 lead over the Cats in the first set, but NU found its stride and from then on seemed completely in control.

With strong performances from Shalter (11 kills, 2 blocks) and freshman outside hitter Stephanie Holthus (14 kills, 1 block), whose play earned her Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors, the Cats dominated Iowa, winning in straight sets, 25-20, 25-14, 25-18.

The wins against Iowa and Minnesota, now No. 19, certainly help ease the disappointment from the Illinois game and establish the Cats, now ranked No. 20, as a force in the Big Ten. NU is now in a virtual tie for first place in the conference with Illinois, now No. 8, and No. 15 Michigan.

“It was a defining step for us,” Moffett said.

Next up for NU are away matches against Michigan (16-2, 5-1) and Michigan State (10-7, 2-4) as they continue their conference slate.

[email protected]