Volleyball: No. 24 Cats look to shake losing streak

Dan Ryan

Oct. 10 marked a high point of the season for Northwestern. Coming off a solid four-set win over then-No. 16 Minnesota, the Wildcats were 15-2, which was the best start in program history. Their performance up until that point earned them the No. 20 spot in the coaches’ poll.

The more wins they piled up, the more the team seemed like a surprise Big Ten contender after entering the season unranked.

As Penn State recorded the final kill last Saturday, however, the No. 24 Wildcats (15-6, 5-5 Big Ten) found themselves on a four-game losing streak, tied for fifth in the conference standings and 0-1 to start the second half of their Big Ten slate.

“It’s definitely frustrating to start losing,” senior middle blocker Naomi Johnsonsaid. “After such a good start, it is kind of a drag…. But it’s definitely made us more motivated.”

While riding their winning streak to the top of the Big Ten standings, the Cats preached consistent, fundamental play and a steady, game-by-game mindset.

NU has been unable to find that consistency as of late, however, sometimes looking like a team that deserves its ranking in the coaches’ poll, other times struggling mightily against inferior opponents.

“The past few weekends, we haven’t been servicing well or passing well,” sophomore libero Julie Chin said.

An added focus has been placed on these two areas during practices the last two weeks, Chin said.

Although it might be easy for the team to want to make drastic changes in the game plan, the Cats are not having a knee-jerk reaction to the losing streak.

“We really believe in what our strengths are,” Johnson said. “We haven’t changed a whole lot in practice. We’re just trying to come out and play as consistently as we can.”

Sitting at 15-6 at the halfway mark in the season, the Cats are still in good position to make the NCAA tournament at season’s end.

NU travels to No. 20 Minnesota (16-7, 6-5) on Friday before taking on Iowa (6-14, 1-10) in a primetime matchup on Saturday.

The Cats enter the weekend series tied with the Golden Gophers in the loss column and with a chance to gain critical ground in the standings. The last time NU beat Minnesota, it lifted the program to its highest point in years. A second win against their conference foe would get the Cats back on track in the Big Ten.

Minnesota may be the marquee matchup of the weekend, but Iowa poses a serious threat to NU on Saturday.

Although the Hawkeyes sit last in the Big Ten, the Cats have had their struggles against Iowa in the past at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The fact the game will be broadcast on TV should serve as even more motivation for a team looking to play spoiler down the stretch.

“I know we haven’t played our best volleyball at Carver-Hawkeye Arena,” coach Keylor Chan said. “(The Hawkeyes) play very well there. We know we’re going to have to go out and play good volleyball and execute a good game plan.”

After finishing up the weekend’s games, the Cats will return home for rematches against No. 6 Illinois and Wisconsin.

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