Volleyball: When the lights go out, Cats win bout

Steven Montero

The Friday night lights went out.

Northwestern was at match point during the decisive fifth set as Caroline Niedospial served to No. 25 Ohio State, when Welsh-Ryan Arena thundered into darkness.

The power outage interrupted the Wildcats’ closest conference match of the season, after Ohio State rallied in the second and fourth sets to force a fifth set. Following a delay of game, the heated competition resumed but it would only last a few more seconds as the Cats sealed the 15-13 win on the ensuing play. The momentum failed to carry into Saturday’s game as No. 12 Penn State swept NU.

However, the Friday game was continually in the Cats’ grasp, and when the freshman served once more, they got a simple answer: ace. A misstep by Ohio State’s Davionna DiSalvatore grounded the ball onto the court, inspiring a celebration on the other side of the net.

Niedospial said she was blown away by the stroke of luck.

“Well, I went back there,” she said, “just told myself to get it in the court and then – I don’t know how it happened – but it was an ace.”

Freshman setter Hannah Crippen said the power outage “freaked out” NU and everyone else in attendance but once the electricity came back, the Cats were able to handle the pressure.

Crippen executed her best performance of the season, slamming down a career-high 14 kills in the match to earn a .323 hitting percentage, NU’s best of the night, while also having a hand in two block assists. The match was a “confidence booster,” she said.

“We had a huge emotional investment,” Crippen said. “We really played with our hearts and we just really focused on eliminating our errors and getting the ball back every time.”

Coach Keylor Chan said the Cats’ defense was solid against the Buckeyes and he especially commended junior Julie Chin for an outstanding performance, in which she accumulated a personal-best 29 digs.

NU couldn’t keep its act together Saturday, lights fully restored, when the four-time reigning national champion Nittany Lions walked into the Cats’ territory.

The Nittany Lions shut out the Cats in three consecutive sets, ending hopes of an upset inspired by NU’s October rally in University Park, Penn.

“Penn State really was impressive tonight,” Chan said. “They were able to do pretty much everything they wanted and we really didn’t execute our scout very well. The girls know that.”

Stephanie Holthus, a sophomore outside hitter, followed a brilliant 25-kill performance against Ohio State with another strong performance against Penn State, Chan said.

“Stephanie Holthus really played well tonight,” he said. “She was the player that just kept us in it, if we were ever in it. So I give her a lot of credit.”

Holthus was at a loss for words when describing how the Cats’ defense fared against the Nittany Lions but said the great attack power of their opponent chipped away NU’s chances at rebuttal.

“We just came out and we let them push us around and didn’t really fight back,” Holthus said.

Chan also brought up the Cats’ serving woes as a reason for their defeat Saturday night.

“We didn’t serve very well tonight either and if you don’t serve well against Penn State and they’re in system, you’re going to have a rough night,” Chan said. “We’re a very good serving team and tonight our service skills weren’t where they needed to be to beat a team like Penn State.”

Although Ohio State stumbled in the dark, Penn State proved to NU why it remains in the spotlight.

“They played at a very top-tier level,” Chan said, “and we didn’t play at our best – and if you don’t, you don’t even give yourself a chance.”

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