Volleyball: Early NU lead withers away against No. 12 Purdue

Steven Montero

Northwestern slammed into the proverbial wall Wednesday after the first set of its match against No. 12 Purdue, finally falling to the Boilermakers 3-1.

For the second consecutive match, the Wildcats (9-5, 0-3 Big Ten) exploded off the court in the opening set, firing off 16 kills and forcing their opponents to scramble all over the Welsh-Ryan floor. NU’s first-set eruption was highly reminiscent of last weekend’s opening set against No. 9 Minnesota.

Sophomore Stephanie Holthus said the reason for the Cats’ incredible first set was their excitement and energy but they couldn’t maintain it throughout the match. With 13 kills and 14 digs against Purdue, Holthus was once again the strongest player on the team, but even she said she “struggled” during Wednesday’s match.

“We had a hard time making adjustments,” Holthus said. “(Ariel) Turner, their outside hitter, kept hitting the ball down the line and we had a hard time adjusting and digging that every time. With all the serving runs they got on, it really made it hard for us to come back.”

Coach Keylor Chan said the incongruity of the first set with the others comes from factors on both sides of the court.

“It’s twofold,” he said. “I think it’s our team trying to figure out how to sustain intensity and that’s what we’re trying to do. Also very good teams that we play know how to take it up another notch, another level, and that’s something that we’re learning to do.”

Errors were also a critical problem. The Cats totaled 42 errors in their kills and serves. They cost NU valuable points in tight sets, enabling Purdue (14-0, 3-0) to go on scoring runs.

It’s this steamroller effect that the team is trying to avoid, freshman Katie Dutchman said. They must work on “controlling” the other team because coming from behind is tough to do in the Big Ten.

“We hung in there,” Holthus said. “We just let Purdue get on long runs at times like five, six points and you can’t do that and come back and win a match. As hard as we fought, we still came up short.”

Nevertheless Dutchman said there were things to be learned from the match, including mimicking Purdue’s recovery style. She said playing highly ranked teams can teach the Cats to be better prepared for future matches.

Chan said NU’s defense was at an acceptable level during the match, a goal the team has been working on since the conference season started.

“Our blocking actually was pretty good,” he said. “They’re a pretty physical, experienced team and their hitters know how to deal with a good defensive team. We did a solid job defensively.”

Service errors were an issue as NU lost six points to the net, Holthus said the serves were “very aggressive” and didn’t give much breathing room for Purdue’s defense. One thing the Cats are still working on is the tempo of the game and the connection between hitter and setter.

Further improvement is needed after the Boilermakers went ahead and took the next two sets with dominating power. The Cats’ resilience didn’t really shine through until the final set, when they refused to let the Boilermakers run off with a huge lead. The rallies became longer as the set progressed and the pressure was turned up.

Eventually, NU fell to a final Purdue assault late in the set, falling 25-20. As each set passed, the Cats drew closer and closer to their opponent, which Chan said is a sign of improvement.

“Our team learned that they’re good, but they know they have to continue to work,” Chan said. “The more you can be close with really good teams, eventually you’ll be close enough and then you break through.”

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