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Volleyball: Northwestern charge falls short at Minnesota

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Volleyball: Northwestern charge falls short at Minnesota

Freshman right side attacker Kayla Morin serves for Northwestern during the Wildcats’ last homestand against Illinois. Morin had two services aces yet only two kills in NU’s 3-1 loss to No. 7 Minnesota on Sunday.

Freshman right side attacker Kayla Morin serves for Northwestern during the Wildcats’ last homestand against Illinois. Morin had two services aces yet only two kills in NU’s 3-1 loss to No. 7 Minnesota on Sunday.

Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Freshman right side attacker Kayla Morin serves for Northwestern during the Wildcats’ last homestand against Illinois. Morin had two services aces yet only two kills in NU’s 3-1 loss to No. 7 Minnesota on Sunday.

Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Freshman right side attacker Kayla Morin serves for Northwestern during the Wildcats’ last homestand against Illinois. Morin had two services aces yet only two kills in NU’s 3-1 loss to No. 7 Minnesota on Sunday.

Kevin Casey, Reporter

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Four days after completing a rousing five-set come-from-behind victory against Illinois, Northwestern found itself in the same 0-2 hole versus a top-notch Minnesota squad.

This time, the Wildcats couldn’t quite complete the comeback.

Before a crowd of more than 4,000 at the Sports Pavilion on Sunday, No. 7 Minnesota (19-4, 7-3 Big Ten) welcomed NU (13-9, 5-5 Big Ten) to its confines and quickly asserted its dominance.

The Golden Gophers raced out to a 13-4 lead in the first set and refused to relent from there. The Cats failed to get within 6 points and fell 25-16. 

A new stanza, same story. After a 6-6 deadlock, Minnesota quickly took control again. The Golden Gophers slammed home the next 5 points and eventually glided to a 25-17 victory.

In those two sets Minnesota dominated the offensive numbers, raking in 29 kills against seven errors and attacking at a .338 rate. NU, meanwhile, knocked down 21 kills, committed 16 errors and hit at a .066 rate.

The difference between the two offenses had a lot to do with height, as the Golden Gophers possess a bevy of tall women to attack and block on the front line.

As freshman setter Caleigh Ryan noted, this provided an uncrackable code for NU early on.

“Minnesota’s a pretty big team, and they were blocking really well in the first two sets,” Ryan said. “We couldn’t seem to get in the groove. But once we hit the third set, we hit aggressively, and I was able to distribute the ball better.”

Indeed, the Cats came out of the locker room for the third stanza as if it were a whole new contest. Bringing its own force on the block and seeing an improved offensive effort, NU scored the first 4 points of the set and soon 11 of the first 15. 

Minnesota fought back and closed the margin to three, but NU held on 25-22. 

The numbers showed an emergence of a formidable blocking group from NU, along with a more efficient offense.

But coach Keylor Chan said he felt the play from the back row facilitated a furious post-second set charge.

“We came out and served way better ,” Chan said. “And if you serve aggressively it gives your defense a chance to score points for you.”

Set number four brought more of a back-and-forth battle, as no team led by more than 3 at any point. 

NU took a 19-17 lead following a trio of junior Yewande Akanbi kills. Seemingly on the verge of forcing a fifth set though, the Cats could not hold on.

Minnesota reasserted its power, registering kills on its final 8 points, and turning a two-point deficit into a 25-22 triumph in the process.

Following the swift turnaround, Chan lamented the missed opportunity at this critical juncture.

“You’re on the road and you’ve got to execute plays down the stretch,” Chan said. “We had a chance to push the match into five. We had a couple of chances, we just didn’t capitalize on them.”

Despite the disappointment of the final result, NU did turn a certain straight-sets defeat into a match that nearly went the distance against a top-10 squad.

The Cats put out varied attack yet again, with three players in double digits for kills — even with Minnesota’s 17 blocks.

Junior Yewande Akanbi led the way in that category with 16 at a .343 rate and chalked up her valiant effort to a simple but effective game plan.

“I just went out and played my game,” Akanbi said. “Just hitting hard, being relaxed on the court, being comfortable. Just going for it pretty much.”

NU accrued 20 more total attacks than Minnesota, pointing to a productive defense. The main catalyst was Caroline Niedospial. The redshirt sophomore libero gathered a career-high 29 digs in the loss. 

Chan said he’s proud to see his squad’s resiliency manifesting itself.

“We played with a lot of heart,” Chan said. “I’m really proud of our team and how hard we fought. If you play like that all year, you’ll have a chance to beat a lot of good teams, and you’ll be there when it really matters.”

E-mail: kevincasey2015@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @KevinCasey19

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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...