Volleyball: Wildcats end season with back-to-back losses

Ben Taylor, Reporter

Heading into its final regular season match against nationally-ranked Nebraska, Northwestern was experiencing deja vu.

Last year before the final game, the Wildcats were 15-15 and needed a win against the then-No. 2 Cornhuskers for a chance to make the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons. NU pulled out the upset at Welsh-Ryan Arena, beating Nebraska 3-1, but would come up just short of making the playoffs.

This year, the Cats went to Nebraska searching for a win to give them a good chance to get into the NCAA Tournament. But just like last year, they ended up a little short.

“We’re all pretty unsatisfied with that result,” coach Keylor Chan said. “It’s good that we were in the hunt all year but disappointing at the end that we couldn’t find ways to win matches that were really important to us.”

NU (16-15, 5-15 Big Ten) lost its final two matches of the season, dropping Wednesday’s face-off against the Illinois Fighting Illini (14-16, 8-12) 3-2 before losing to the No. 10 Nebraska Cornhuskers (23-6, 15-5) 3-1, effectively taking the team out of postseason play.

“We played well but it wasn’t enough,” sophomore middle blocker Katie Dutchman said. “I’m not sure what else needs to be done, but we tried our hardest.”

Against Illinois, the Cats looked like a team fighting to keep their season alive. After going back and forth with the Fighting Illini in the first set to reach a 17-17 tie, NU went on a dominant 7-1 run and eventually won it 25-20. Illinois would go on to take the next two games both by the close score of 25-22, but the Cats responded in the fourth set, jumping out to an early 18-12 lead to win the set 25-20. In the fifth set the Cats continued to keep it close with the frame tied at 10 all, but impressive finishing performances by sophomore outside hitter Liz McMahon and freshman outside hitter Jocelynn Birks eventually gave them the set 15-12.

On Saturday NU came out flat early against the Cornhuskers. After keeping the first set within reach early, the Cats would allow Nebraska to get a 11-2 run and win the frame 25-15. And though NU was resilient in the second set fighting off five set points, the team could not close it out and dropped the set 25-22. With an impressive third set victory of 25-20 that kept the Cats in the match, the skill of the Cornhuskers was too great for NU in the fourth, resulting in the team losing the frame 25-21.

“I thought we actually played hard,” Chan said. “We just couldn’t get big critical side outs and score some points and they both beat us.”

For many of the NU players, not making the NCAA Tournament again after coming so close was extremely disappointing. The tournament had been the team’s goal from the beginning of the season, and after starting off the year with 11 straight wins many players were optimistic the NCAAs were in their future.

“It’s rough,” Dutchman said. “The worst part about it was not having another week at least with the seniors and knowing that it was done.”

Luckily for the Cats, the number of seniors leaving isn’t that large.

With only Julie Chin and Madalyn Shalter graduating, Chan is hoping the team can improve its performance in Big Ten play.

“We had a lot of players have to take on roles that they never had to do before in their careers at Northwestern,” Chan said. “I think hopefully this year provided us a great platform for us to be better in a lot of these areas next year.”