Volleyball: Northwestern drops both matches over weekend, extends losing streak to four

Dan Ryan

Fitting the importance of the matchup, more than 1,800 fans packed Welsh-Ryan Arena on Saturday to watch then-No. 22 Northwestern take on perennial powerhouse then-No. 9 Penn State.

The recorded attendance was by far the highest of the season and was one of the largest crowds in NU volleyball history.

“I thought it was awesome, this is what you want every night,” coach Keylor Chan said. “This is what Penn State brings.”

Those expecting a competitive match between two Big Ten contenders, however, left sorely disappointed.

The Wildcats (15-6, 5-5 Big Ten) failed to bounce back from a 0-2 road trip a week ago and were swept in three sets by Penn State (17-4, 7-3) a day after losing a dramatic five-set match to unranked Ohio State.

The losses extended the Cats’ losing streak to four and pushed them two slots down in the coaches’ poll to No. 24.

“(Penn State) played the best I’ve seen them play all year,” Chan said. “We didn’t execute at the level we needed to beat a team like Penn State tonight.”

The Nittany Lions controlled every aspect of the game from the opening serve as the Cats held a lead only twice in the entire match, both times coming early in the first set.

In the second set, NU kept pace with Penn State for as long as they could, matching them point-for-point deep into the frame. Penn State went on a furious rally and dominated the Cats, winning by a final score of 25-18, 25-18, 25-17.

“It was a tough loss,” senior middle blocker Sabel Moffett said. “We didn’t play as aggressive as we normally do.”

In the losing effort, senior middle blocker Naomi Johnson led the team offensively with 6 kills, and Moffett and freshman outside hitter Stephanie Holthus each contributed 5 kills to the cause. The Cats were left shorthanded for the match, as a few players were forced to sit out with the flu, Moffett said.

If the matchup with Penn State failed to excite, Friday’s match against Ohio State provided a dramatic opening to the weekend.

NU stumbled out of the gate. Despite holding a 20-17 advantage in the first set, the Cats allowed the Buckeyes to stage an 8-2 rally to take the opening frame.

The Cats, however, would go on a run of their own. They found a rhythm and played like a team on a mission en route to taking the next two sets 25-19 and 25-23.

Leading the charge was Johnson (10 kills, 8 blocks), who set a career-best with five service aces. Also performing well for the Cats were Holthus (14 kills, 2 blocks) and Moffett (10 kills, 3 blocks).

Things took a turn in the fourth when, after establishing a 22-15 lead, it seemed certain that Ohio State would force a deciding fifth set with ease. Instead, the Cats went on a spectacular rally to grab the lead at 24-23, one point away from winning the match. NU squandered their chance however, and the Buckeyes took the set 26-24.

Seemingly exhausted from Ohio State’s comeback, the Cats struggled to establish themselves in the final frame, dropping the fifth set 11-15 and with it the match.

“We were up and down a little bit,” Chan said. “We needed our team to be more consistent. We were winning big and then losing big and so was Ohio State, and it really came down to which team was going to be more consistent and Ohio State was.”

NU now faces four straight road games, traveling to No. 20 Minnesota on Friday before taking on Iowa on Saturday.

[email protected]