Volleyball: Cats come off rest week to take on Michigan State, Michigan

Steven Montero

The Wildcats will have two chances this weekend to stop squirming near the bottom of the Big Ten.

Northwestern faces a Great Lakes State double-feature as the team competes against Michigan State on Friday and No. 20 Michigan on Saturday.

With just one conference win, which came against the Big Ten’s only winless team, Indiana, the Cats are struggling to find stable ground. According to coach Keylor Chan, consistency is still NU’s biggest problem.

During practice drills, NU (10-7, 1-5 Big Ten) attempts to sustain a high level of play by sequencing events in ways that make it harder to score a point, Chan said. Repetition in any sport is vital to success, but the Cats haven’t had much time to practice because they’ve had matches every few days since the Big Ten season began. Six days between an upsetting loss to Ohio State last Saturday and this weekend’s matches finally gave NU a chance to breathe.

“We haven’t been able to train,” Chan said. “We’ve been working on scouting for teams every two days. So having three, four days just to work on us will be nice. We’ll use this week well and really be able to focus on ourselves as a team.”

Freshman Yewande Akanbi said it’s time for NU to “rest and refocus.” After falling to the Buckeyes, the Cats had a “weird off-day, ” according to Akanbi, in which the team chemistry wasn’t there.

Akanbi added that the longer break will provide an opportunity to shake off the last couple of losses and reorient the team’s mentality toward winning. She said the Cats are working to improve further and must keep a positive frame of mind.

“I learned that for us to win we have to be both physically and mentally there,” Akanbi said. “Personally, I didn’t feel the same way like when we were playing Penn State. It was just like – it’s kind of hard to explain. It was just a weird vibe.”

The Cats will battle stiff competition this weekend as always, including a Spartans team Chan said knows how to play in the Big Ten. He said Michigan State (14-4, 3-3) is one of the older teams in the conference, bringing back five seniors who have all started the past four years.

Chan said the Spartans are a very physical and offensive team that has had some great victories this season amidst mixed results. Michigan State handed Wisconsin a 3-1 loss last week but fell in three straight sets to No. 14 Minnesota a day later.

Meanwhile, Chan said Michigan (14-4, 2-4) is a team “similar” to NU.

“They have some very good skill players, are coached very well and they’ve obviously done a very good job up until this point,” Chan said.

Freshman Caroline “Carks” Niedospial received playing time during recent Big Ten competition and recorded a career-best 10 digs in Saturday’s match. She said she has been proving herself in practice, which contributed to her growing presence on the court.

She said the team has a “really good shot” this weekend but added that NU’s energy can’t fade as the match progresses.

“We just need to keep our energy really high because that helps us pull out big plays,” Niedospial said. “That’s a really big deal for us this weekend. We pregame before ­- we just act goofy with each other and dance in the locker room and that gets us pumped up for the match.”

If the Cats’ energy is tied to their consistency, they will need to be supercharged for this weekend. The trend of comebacks or solo first-set wins simply won’t do if NU is to have a chance of reaching its NCAA goals. Akanbi said this weekend’s matches are must-win situations.

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