The Daily Northwestern

Volleyball: Northwestern sweeps Wildcat Classic after come-from-behind win

Senior Stephanie Holthus serves the ball during the Wildcat Classic in Evanston last weekend. Northwestern dominated the tournament, besting all three teams on the shoulders of the outside hitter. She set a new school record, pounding 24 kills in a three-set match against Miami (Ohio).

Annabel Edwards/Daily Senior Staffer

Senior Stephanie Holthus serves the ball during the Wildcat Classic in Evanston last weekend. Northwestern dominated the tournament, besting all three teams on the shoulders of the outside hitter. She set a new school record, pounding 24 kills in a three-set match against Miami (Ohio).

Kevin Casey, Reporter

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






The Wildcat Classic looked like it would start on a sour note for the home squad.

Northwestern welcomed South Florida to town Friday afternoon, the opening match of a three-game stretch before Big Ten play, and promptly fell into a hole.

The Cats dropped the first set 22-25, suffered an even worse fate in the second stanza by falling 19-25 and suddenly found themselves one set away from defeat.

It wasn’t looking good for NU, especially with the visiting Bulls registering a healthy hitting percentage of .333. A straight-sets loss appeared probable, as did struggles against the next two foes following such a thorough defeat.

Then something changed.

“We just knew that we weren’t playing like we should be playing, that we were better than that,” said Stephanie Holthus, the team’s star senior outside hitter. “We just came out and left it all out on the floor and started playing our game. It came out good for us.”

NU lit up the third set, racing out to an 11-3 lead and cruising to a 25-16 triumph. A new set brought a much tighter fight, but the Cats prevailed 25-21, knotting the match up 2-2.

Smelling blood in the water, NU didn’t give USF hope in the deciding set. The home team bolted out 6-1 and never led by less than 3 on the way to a decisive 15-7 victory in the final set.

For coach Keylor Chan, the significance of that win was very clear.

“It was huge,” Chan said. “It’s hard, when you’re down two sets. You’ve got to show a lot of heart and a lot of resilience to come back. That could be a pivotal moment in our program’s year for sure.”

At the very least, it was a pivotal moment for the weekend.

The Bulls were far more sloppy in the final three sets, attacking at a dismal .090 rate. But that didn’t tell the whole story — NU simply started playing better. Chan noticed a drastic improvement on defense, something that led to a more efficient attack.

The Cats showed up strong later that night, burning Miami (Ohio) in straight sets 25-22, 25-19, 25-15. They followed up Sunday, producing scores of 25-17, 25-21, 25-14, taking down Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis with precision.

In all, NU won nine consecutive sets, upping its record to 8-4. That may imply a smooth, stress-free existence, but a number of these sets were actually deadlocked in the middle, and that’s where the Cats pounced.

“This team’s growing and learning, and now they’re learning when critical points are,” Chan said. “If you can win those points, it puts so much pressure on your opponent, and then you can kind of pull away, and that’s what ended up happening with this group.”

The usual culprits came to play. Holthus had a season-high 27 kills and a career-high 24 digs against USF and set a school record for most kills in a a three-set match with her 24 against Miami (Ohio). Overall, the senior had 68 kills in 11 sets, hitting .358 in the process and earning the tournament’s MVP title.

Freshman Caleigh Ryan tallied 13.55 assists per set in these three contests, a mark well over her previous season average of 11.07.

“Our passers were doing a great job — Caleigh was distributing the ball really well,” junior outside hitter Monica McGreal said. “Our whole team played really well.”

But the Cats cannot rest on their laurels for long. Big Ten play commences Friday, and NU will take on No. 12 Nebraska in Evanston.

Overall, Chan said he believes the team’s performance was just the right medicine heading into a tough conference slate.

“It’s exactly what we needed,” Chan said. “We needed to work on some things, build some confidence, and now we get to play with the big girls, Nebraska and everyone. We’re focused on Nebraska, and we’re going to try to be the very best we can for them.”

Email: kevincasey2015@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @KevinCasey19

Comments

About the Writer
Kevin Casey, Sports Editor

He has worked as an assistant editor and a reporter for the Daily in the past. He is from Duxbury, Massachusetts and has interned at Comcast SportsNet...