Volleyball: Wildcats come agonizingly close to road sweep


Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Outside hitter Stephanie Holthus slammed down 17 kills in Lincoln, Neb., and burned her mark in the Northwestern record books. With her performance against Nebraska, the senior is now the all-time leader in kills with 1,673.

Kevin Casey, Reporter

Northwestern won more than 50 percent of its sets this weekend and proved yet again that it will not wilt against stiff Big Ten competition. But the results were bittersweet.

On the road Friday and Saturday night, the Wildcats squared off with Iowa (10-14, 1-11 Big Ten) and Nebraska (19-4, 8-2) and nearly swept the slate.

To start, NU (14-10, 6-6) took care of the Hawkeyes in four sets. Although the teams played at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, the road squad was clearly the better unit. In the first two sets, Iowa actually hung pretty tough, falling 23-25 in the opening stanza and cruising 25-16 in the second game to knot the match 1-1. 

The next two sets were a different story.

The Cats took charge, nailing down the third set 25-17 and romping to a 25-13 margin in a fourth set. For the match, NU forced Iowa into 28 attacking errors while committing only 19.

Coach Keylor Chan attributed those extra mistakes to his team’s ability to put Iowa in tough situations offensively. As for the Cats’ offense, the totals were 50 kills at a .225 rate.

Outside hitter Stephanie Holthus, who tallied 16 kills of her own, was pleased by the attacking effort, with a qualifier.

“Against Iowa it was great,” the senior said. “We had great offensive rhythm against them. But if you want to look at it sideways, they’re definitely a shorter team than Nebraska is.”

Fresh off their victory over the Hawkeyes, the Cats traveled to a boisterous Bob Devaney Sports Center to take on the No. 11 Cornhuskers, and the match did not disappoint.

Both teams came out firing, vying for each point, but the road squad held the advantage after three sets, as NU sandwiched a 17-25 loss in the second stanza between two 25-21 triumphs.

Nebraska tallied 10 blocks in those opening three games, an effort that should’ve gotten them out to the early lead. But the Cats compensated elsewhere to deal with the front-court onslaught.

“Their blocking was definitely good,” said Savannah Paffen, NU’s junior middle blocker. “They made us have to open the pin more and try to reverse the flow with our setting. It was definitely tough to get around them though, we went with high hands and it worked.”

Up against the fence, the Cornhuskers brought out their best. Nebraska took the fourth set 25-17 and blitzed NU with a series of blocks and kills to start the fifth and deciding set 9-4.

At a point where the Cats could have faltered, they instead chose to fight. In a furious rally, NU scored 8 of the next 11 points to tie the set 12-12 and was threatening to pull a big road upset in spectacular come-from-behind fashion.

But Nebraska woke up just in time, registering kills on three of the next four points to finish off the match. 

It was a disappointing finish for the Cats in what had appeared a promising match. But in the aftermath, Holthus was ecstatic about the team’s effort in a notoriously hostile Lincoln environment.

“I swear in that fifth game, we couldn’t even hear ourselves think,” Holthus said. “We fought so hard, and that’s why we’re so beaten up by the game. A lot of us feel like we didn’t even play our best game. The fact that we went out, fought and took that game to five was really awesome for us.”

Nebraska finished the match with a whopping 18 blocks. Despite that, Holthus became NU’s all-time leader in kills when her 11th termination of the match dropped.

The senior surpassed Janine Makar’s previous mark of 1,666 on that shot and added six more thereafter to up her career total to 1,673. Needless to say, the record-breaker was in awe of her own achievement.

“It’s amazing,” Holthus said. “There’s been so many great athletes — volleyball players — to come through the Northwestern program. I still can’t really wrap my head around it.”

Of course, a sweep would’ve done nicely as well. Still, Chan believes NU is competing like a top-15 squad and is bullish on his team moving forward.

“To play Nebraska like that and to show that kind of determination and will says a lot about our team,” Chan said. “I loved the way we’re playing volleyball right now, the only thing we don’t like is the outcome. But the process of what we’re doing within the team, and what the girls are doing is outstanding.”

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