Volleyball: Cats look to recover from 0-2 weekend

Ben Taylor, Reporter

If there were a power conference in women’s volleyball, there is no question the Big Ten would be at the top of the list.

With seven of the conference’s 12 teams ranked in the top 25 of the AVCA Coaches Poll and a Michigan team not far behind in 29th, navigating through a season of Big Ten conference play would challenge any team.

Northwestern senior libero Julie Chin said keeping a positive attitude and being confident is the Wildcats’ answer to handling the tough competition.

“I feel like every team in the Big Ten is worth getting a rank, so every team is good,” Chin said. “We have to go in there and know we are a good team.”

The Cats (11-2, 0-2 Big Ten) will need that attitude as they make their first conference road trip to the Hoosier State, taking on the No. 13  Purdue Boilermakers (11-2, 2-0) Friday before heading to Bloomington, Ind. to face the Indiana Hoosiers (8-6, 0-2) on Saturday.

Although NU has enjoyed recent success against these two teams, winning the last six consecutive matches, the Cats struggled last weekend in their first Big Ten matches of the season, losing to Wisconsin (13-2, 1-1) 3-1 before dropping the match against No. 10 Minnesota (11-2, 2-0) by the same score. But coach Keylor Chan hopes the situational work his players have done in practice this week will limit the mistakes that cost them against Wisconsin and Minnesota.

“We just tried to recreate the situations we were in last weekend and let the girls learn how to deal with them,” Chan said.

For the players, simply focusing on playing smart volleyball is the key to winning on the road.

“We have to know when is a good time to take what swings,” junior outside hitter Stephanie Holthus said.

Holthus was a bright spot for the Cats this past weekend, reaching 1,000 career kills during the Minnesota match. For the season, Holthus has recorded 207 kills to go with a .240 hitting percentage in 13 games.

The Cats now have to go on the road for the first time in conference play. Chan said leaving Evanston for a few days might help his players focus on volleyball.

“Getting away gets rid of some of the distractions you have,” he said.

On top of limiting errors and instilling confidence in his players, Chan is expecting veteran players Chin, Holthus and sophomore middle blocker Katie Dutchman to have big matches this weekend. This is especially important in the Purdue match, as the Boilermakers took down No. 24 Michigan State (13-2, 1-2) and Michigan (13-3, 1-1) in five sets in both matches to move up from their No. 17 position entering the weekend.

The Cats will also have to look out for Purdue’s redshirt junior libero Carly Cramer and freshman outside hitter Annie Drews, who respectively earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week and Big Ten Freshman of the Week accolades last weekend.

Despite these obstacles, the Cats have set their expectations high for this weekend’s matches.

“We put our goals on the board as a team every week, and our first goal this week is 2-0 (winning two matches),” Holthus said.