Volleyball: Northwestern earns another weekend split, this time in the Hoosier State

Dan Ryan

It’s becoming almost routine for the Wildcats: another weekend of Big Ten play, another one win, one loss showing to take back to practice.

For the third consecutive week, No. 24 Northwestern (18-9, 8-8 Big Ten) split its matches, losing a back-and-forth five-setter at Purdue (18-9, 9-7) on Friday before sweeping Indiana (19-9, 7-9) in three sets on Saturday.

Entering the road trip, the Cats sat at fifth place in the standings alongside Ohio State, Purdue and Indiana, giving the matches in the Hoosier State added importance as the season draws to a close.

“I think it doesn’t get any more important than this weekend,” coach Keylor Chan said.

Opening the critical weekend, however, NU stumbled out of the gate against Purdue.

With five separate ties and neither team leading by more than four throughout, the first set was tightly contested. Although they never let the Boilermakers pull away, the Cats failed to gain the lead at any point in the frame, eventually falling 22-25. NU came out on fire in the second set, at one point holding a 10-point lead and never trailing, taking the frame comfortably 25-16.

Leading the resurgence for the Cats was senior middle blocker Naomi Johnson (15 kills, 7 blocks) and freshman outside hitter Stephanie Holthus, who recorded her 10th double-double of the season (16 kills, 11 digs). Senior outside hitter Christina Kaelin (14 kills, 2 blocks) also turned in a strong performance.

The tide turned once again in the third as Purdue opened up an early five-point advantage on the Cats. Although NU fought back to tie the set at 22, it simply could not hold off the Boilermakers down the stretch, dropping the final two points and with them the set 24-26.

The fourth frame played out much like the third. Although Purdue enjoyed an early lead, it quickly evaporated as the Cats rallied to tie the set late. Two clutch kills by Kaelin sealed it for NU by a score of 26-24.

The final frame would not be so kind to the Cats.

Purdue opened the set on 4-1 run, and NU simply could not recover from the early deficit, eventually dropping the fifth set 10-15 and with it the match.

“Overall, our team performance was pretty good,” senior middle blocker Sabel Moffett said. “They just executed a little better than we did. It ended up being a bunch of little things.”

Needing a split to keep pace in the Big Ten, the Cats entered Saturday’s contest against the Hoosiers determined to salvage the weekend.

Despite trailing by three for much of the first set, NU rallied late and held Indiana close, eventually overtaking the Hoosiers 25-23.

Behind more strong play from Moffett (13 kills, 5 blocks), Johnson (11 kills, 3 blocks) and Kaelin (10 kills, 1 block), the Cats dominated the second set and once again rallied to take the third, winning by a final of 25-23, 25-16, 25-23.

“With the NCAA (Tournament) coming up, we knew we had to at least split to accomplish our goals,” Moffett said. “Being on the road, it’s important to split the weekend if you can’t get two.”

NU is now tied for sixth in the Big Ten with Ohio State. The Cats finish up their final two road games next weekend, taking on No. 8 Penn State on Friday before visiting the Buckeyes on Saturday.

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