Volleyball: Cats seek revenge against Badgers and Golden Gophers

Steven Montero

Revenge.

That’s what Northwestern seeks against No. 15 Minnesota and Wisconsin on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

After falling to both teams in their opening weekend of Big Ten play, the Wildcats are pushing ahead after scouting their opponents and identifying weaknesses.

“It’s going to be really interesting to see how we react starting the second round because we played them first when we started Big Tens,” senior Alex Ayers said. “When we played Wisconsin we really didn’t know what to expect. It was kind of like we were feeling the team out and other Big Ten teams. It was our first tough competition. We were kind of caught on our heels a little bit the first time we played.”

Coach Keylor Chan mapped out a strategy for his team to follow. He said the Cats will need to control the Golden Gophers’ primary hitters, Ashley Wittman and Tori Dixon. An improved NU defense, he said, will provide opportunities to block the duo and side the ball out.

The Cats still need to execute kills to beat Minnesota, however, and Chan elaborated on their attack plan.

“We’re going to have to take advantage of their right side blockers,” he said. “They’re good blockers but they’re not great blockers and that’s a really good matchup for us. We’re going to have to be able to really exploit one of their outside hitters who is undersized in the Big Ten. Great player but a little small to be blocking at our level.”

Against Wisconsin, their agenda is slightly twisted. Creating a better defense against the Badgers’ offense will lead to victory, he said, but NU must minimize unforced errors.

Freshman Hannah Crippen said these errors cost the Cats the September matchup in Madison, Wis. “Serving aggressive” against specific targets and avoiding Wisconsin’s libero is the “big focus,” she said.

Watching video from the previous matches helped NU develop these strategies. Ayers said the Cats were “surprised with how well (they) did” in their compelling first-set win against the Golden Gophers. Reviewing this match allowed NU to realize its scoring potential against a top-25 team such as Minnesota.

“We can score against this team – we just have to be disciplined enough to get there,” Ayers said.

In their earlier matches, the Cats were more like underdogs, according to Crippen. Now, with increased information about its competitors and experience under its belt, she said NU is ready to seize the victory.

The Cats also fine-tuned some critical skills this week.

“We’ve been spending a lot of time on serve reception and attacking,” Chan said. “The first pass and attack opportunity that we have. That’s something that we’ve struggled with this whole year and it’s getting better but we need to be much better this weekend if we want to give ourselves a chance to win.”

Practice makes perfect, but for Ayers, a winning performance means payback.

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