Volleyball: NU seeks to snap streak of 16 straight losses against Penn State

Steven Montero and Steven Montero

Coming off of its first Big Ten win against Indiana Saturday, Northwestern is full of confidence heading into a match against No. 8 Penn State Wednesday.

The Nittany Lions have proven their absolute dominance on the courts over the years, claiming the last four national championship titles. In particular, they have dominated the Wildcats, defeating NU 16 straight times, but the Cats are ready to charge the net.

“Any night, any team can win,” freshman Hannah Crippen said.

NU is going to need to play its best volleyball in order to compete with the reigning champs. Crippen said the Cats know they have the potential to beat Big Ten teams and keeping their consistency is the biggest issue.

Coach Keylor Chan said NU’s attack plan is to be more technical, careful and skilled. The Cats have practiced their middle blocker transition and focused on returning a unique “top-spin left-handed” serve from Penn State’s setter.

“We’re going to have to be balanced attacking the ball,” Chan said. “We’re going to have to pass extremely well, which is one of our strengths, and run our offense. We can’t get predictable. If we’re predictable they’ll be able to beat us probably. They’re a very physical team, taller probably at every position than us minus the setter. We’re going to have to be a very skilled volleyball team because we will definitely not be able to overpower this team.”

Penn State will prove formidable but it isn’t the same team as last year, junior Julie Chin said. She said the Nittany Lions’ hitters and servers are great but there is ample room for NU to come away with the victory.

Penn State is coming off two wins on the road to Minnesota and Wisconsin. Both teams defeated the Cats in the first weekend of conference play, despite valiant efforts to keep the sets close and an amazing explosion of power in the first set against the Golden Gophers.

Chan is not intimidated by these results.

“There’s so much parity in the Big Ten,” Chan said, “and you can see that consistent play has been very difficult minus maybe Illinois and Purdue. Even Penn State’s been a little up and down. When they’re up, they’re as good as anyone but they’re playing a lot of young players too that are trying to find it.”

Consistency has been a major issue for NU all season. Fiery first sets followed by opponents going on long runs are recurring themes in the Cats’ Big Ten performances.

Crippen said passing and defense are NU’s strong points but Wednesday’s match needs to be filled with “exceptional offense.” This includes staying in control throughout the game and being able to hit anything. It’s a similar recovery strategy as the Cats witnessed when they lost to Purdue.

Chin said it’s all about eliminating distractions and buckling down into a strictly NU mentality.

“We just need to focus on our side,” Chin said. “If every single one of us can play up to our highest level, I’m sure – without a doubt – we can play with them and we can beat them. It’s all on us.”

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