Volleyball: Wildcats return home to take on Hawkeyes

Ryan Miller, Reporter

Northwestern is back in Evanston this weekend for another Big Ten matchup, this time against Iowa. The Wildcats (13-7, 2-7 Big Ten) will return to Welsh-Ryan Arena for the first time in two weeks to take on the Hawkeyes (10-12, 2-7) on Sunday afternoon.

NU will face an Iowa team that experienced a big conference win over then-No. 12 Purdue two weeks ago. Although the Hawkeyes have not won since, the victory is no doubt still fresh in their minds, as are the close losses to No. 10 Minnesota and No. 4 Nebraska. The Cats will have to slow down the Hawkeyes as both teams look for their third conference win.

“Iowa’s playing some really good volleyball,” said coach Keylor Chan. “They’ve gotten some new players added to their program and they had a big win against Purdue, so I think we’re going to have be very good on Sunday to give ourselves a chance to come out with a successful outcome.”

The Cats will try to shake off Wednesday night’s loss to Illinois in order to find their first home win in a month. Shaky serving from NU was a major problem during the five sets against the Fighting Illini – the team ended up with 14 service errors to Illinois’ five. Dropping points like this, especially at crucial moments in the match, played a major role in the Cats’ loss.

Despite this, Chan does not think the issue will carry over into the game against Iowa.

“I don’t think it has really been a problem in the past,” Chan said. “We look at it as a one-match thing.”

Because of this, the coach does not plan to focus on serving issues in the practices leading up to Sunday.

“Sometimes by not addressing things you recognize it’s just an outlier,” Chan said. “We just keep on moving through practice as we typically would and focus on things that we feel have been problematic in the past.”

Yet again, consistency proved to be a problem for the Cats on Wednesday, and it will certainly be an issue that needs to be addressed. After coming out with a strong first set, NU dropped the second set and lost the third 25-14. The Cats came back in the fourth set with a dominating start, only to let the lead narrow, eventually winning 25-17, before losing the final set by a 6-point margin. This kind of uneven pacing has held the Cats back from winning close conference games, and the team knows that to get the win against Iowa, they need to recreate the intensity from their successful sets against Illinois.

“Continuing to play consistent volleyball and sustaining it through the whole match (will be important),” junior outside hitter Stephanie Holthus said.

NU knows how to put plays together, so it may come down to controlling the momentum.

“We’ve played really good volleyball at times,” Chan said. “But we know we need to continue to be consistent in our approach and we need to be consistent from set to set.”

Returning to their home court should help the Cats keep their composure and dictate late set points. If they can couple this with a return to their usual serving habits and continued attacking success, NU will have everything in place to take down a determined Hawkeyes squad.

Sophomore outside hitter Hannah Crippen is confident the team will be able to do just that and pull out the win on Sunday.

“We have all the components,” Crippen said. “We just need to execute.”