Volleyball: No. 22 Cats not overlooking anybody

Dan Ryan

Fresh off a 0-2 showing on their last road trip, the Wildcats enter Homecoming weekend sliding down the standings in the Big Ten and facing a critical matchup with No. 9 Penn State on Saturday.

“This weekend is huge for us,” senior middle blocker Sabel Moffett said. “Penn State is known nationally as being a great program.”

The prime focus for No. 22 Northwestern (15-4, 5-3 Big Ten), however, is neither on last weekend’s results nor on the Nittany Lions (16-4, 6-3) and the spotlight they bring with them.

x”Ohio State first,” coach Keylor Chan said. “They’re a very good team, and they can come in and beat us easily.”

Coming into the season unranked and under the radar, the Cats have found success by stressing fundamentals, steady play and a short memory. Going up against Ohio State (16-6, 4-5 Big Ten), the Cats are careful not to overlook any opponent or let any loss affect their play.

“It’s hard to let yourself get down after one match,” Moffett said. “If we do lose a first set, we look at it almost as a learning point, and we learn to adapt and make adjustments that are needed to win the next game.”

This thought process has been showcased numerous times during the season.

After losing a heartbreaking five-set match against then-No. 7 Illinois, the Cats rebounded at home the next weekend, notching a win in a possible trap game against Iowa before upsetting then-No. 16 Minnesota in 4 sets. In the game against Minnesota, as well as in games against Indiana, Purdue and Tennessee, NU fought back from one- or two-set deficits to take the match.

When it comes to on-court strategy, the team’s steady mindset is applied to executing a solid passing game.

“The core things that we talk about are just doing what we do well,” Chan said. “Serve and pass well, and usually we do serve and pass well.”

NU doesn’t appear often on the individual conference statistics leaderboard, but Moffett ranks first in conference in blocks and senior setter Elyse Glab ranks second in assists. Very little attention is ever paid to their place on the coaches’ poll.

Wins and sound overall team performances are more what the Cats are looking for.

“We’re a very sound team fundamentally,” Chan said. “That’s how we built this team.”

With the first half of their conference schedule now complete, NU plays every Big Ten team one more time before the tournament.

Saturday’s contest against Penn State is important not only to start off the second half strong but also because the Cats find themselves one game behind the Nittany Lions in the conference standings after their losses last weekend.

Entering the stretch run of the season, how the Cats execute fundamentally will be key in determining where they finish in the standings.

“We just can’t worry about last weekend; that’s in the past,” sophomore outside hitter Madalyn Shalter said. “So we just move on.”

[email protected]