Volleyball: Cats have found prosperity on the homefront

Steven Montero

Home court advantage may mean everything to

Northwestern this weekend as it prepares to take on No. 22 Ohio State and No. 9 Penn State at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Facing these teams in their respective stadiums proved difficult for the Cats this season, as they dropped road matches against the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions earlier this season. Overall, NU has struggled on the road, compiling a 3-6 record, but NU is on fire at home, most recently knocking down No. 16 Minnesota and Wisconsin on its home court in Evanston.

“It’s nice to get them back at home,” coach Keylor Chan said. “We’ve been playing really well at home so we’re looking forward to a little home cooking.”

Chan’s current recipe is performing wonders for the Cats. With wins in four of their last five games, NU has confidence stepping into its upcoming matches, according to freshman Caroline “Carks” Niedospial.

Niedospial said the team has improved its attacking over the course of the season and that this experience will help drive the Cats to victory.

This week’s practice is devoted to preparing for their visitors’ style of play, Chan said.

When playing the Buckeyes in Columbus over a month ago, the Cats didn’t know what to expect from their opponents, and NU was forced to adjust as the match progressed. The Cats did manage to hold down the Ohio State offense in the second set, thus securing their only set point of the night. Chan is confident the Buckeyes will repeat their October strategy of strong serves and emphasizing their most prolific hitters this weekend.

Senior Alex Ayers said that after watching video of their match against the Buckeyes, the Cats have figured out how to score against this top-ranked opponent and know what to watch for. Ayers, Chan and Niedospial all mentioned Ohio State’s serving as a point of emphasis.

“They actually have this strategy where they serve really fast, like as soon as the whistle blows,” Niedospial said. “We just have to be prepared for that because last time that kind of threw us off a little bit. This time we’ll be ready for it though.”

Ayers said stopping the Buckeyes’ “go-to attackers” is vital. She said the Cats will have to adjust their block to defend against Emily Danks and Mari Hole, each of whom have over 300 kills this season. Athleticism runs in the Danks family, as two of her brothers play in the Chicago White Sox organization.

Following their match with the Buckeyes, the Cats will have another chance to sink their teeth into the Nittany Lions on Saturday. NU fell 3-2 in its first meeting of the season with Penn State, in what could have been an historic upset of the four-time defending national champions.

“Penn State’s good,” Chan said. “They’re a great team and any night they can be as good as anyone in the nation, and they’ve definitely proven that. But they’re definitely young and shown that they can be inconsistent or vulnerable, especially on the road.”

Penn State will be heading into this weekend hungry after a loss at Wisconsin, where the Nittany Lions couldn’t seem to find a rhythm until the third and fourth sets, coming back from 2-0 down to force a five-set thriller, until they were ultimately grounded by the Badgers 3-2.

Even amidst current calculations and strategies for defeating conference foes, Ayers said the team remains focused on its ultimate goal: making the NCAA Tournament.

“We know we have to win three more games – three at least, four would be great – to have a chance at going to the tournament,” Ayers said. “We’re really trying to get as many wins as we can, and right now we’re just thinking about making it to postseason.”

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