Just a week after unveiling its powerful new offense, Northwestern fell to No. 2 Penn State (26-2, 17-1 Big Ten) and Ohio State (17-13, 5-13) in two lopsided affairs.
The Wildcats traveled to University Park, Pa., on Friday to battle the Nittany Lions. Penn State quickly took the first two sets and control of the game heading into the intermission. The Nittany Lions played a particularly dominant second set, in which they held the Cats to a mere .088 hitting percentage.
Head coach Keylor Chan said he knew his team was facing an extremely difficult matchup.
“They can execute at such a high level both offensively and defensively and in transition that it puts a lot of pressure on you,” he said. “I don’t think it was anything that we did, it was more of the things that they were able to do.”
With their backs to the wall, the Cats took the third set 33-31 in dramatic fashion. Key service errors from outside hitter Maddie Martin and setter Micha Hancock helped provide NU the break it needed. Two consecutive kills from redshirt junior attacker Katie Dutchman finally ended the set.
It was to little avail, as Penn State cleaned up its act in the fourth set and crushed NU’s hopes for an upset.
Dutchman said she sees a lot of room for improvement.
“I think we need to work on serve and pass a lot, staying aggressive, and also controlling our side of the net and controlling the speed,” she said.
The Cats suffered an even more brutal defeat against the Buckeyes on Saturday. Although NU was able to defend its home court when Ohio State came to Evanston on October 16, it was shut out in three sets this time around.
The Buckeyes established control of the match from the get-go, winning six of the first eight rallies. It seemed as if the Cats were playing very timidly and hoping the Buckeyes would make mistakes instead of being the aggressor. Four of the first seven points that NU scored during the first set were errors from Ohio State. When the Buckeyes began to focus and stopped making those mistakes, the Cats could not generate points.
NU’s inability to serve and pass well handicapped its offense. The Cats could not create the opportunities necessary to expose holes in the Buckeyes’ defense.
“If you struggle with the serve and pass game, you’re not going to give yourself a chance to compete with the really good teams, and everyone in our league is good,” Chan said. “Those are the two basic skills where you really can’t struggle, and those were the two skills we were deficient in against Ohio State.”
One bright spot of the weekend was freshman Kayla Morin. Although she is normally an extremely streaky player, Morin played exceptional volleyball throughout the entire weekend. Against Penn State, Morin was second on the team in both kills and digs with 14 and 15, respectively. She did not start Saturday but was forced to come in when junior Monica McGreal injured her ankle late in the first set. Morin then went on to lead the team in kills with 13 on only 36 attempts.
“These past two matches I just wanted to go out and be aggressive,” the outside hitter said.
Her newfound confidence seems to have inspired her and the team as they head into their penultimate game against Illinois on Wednesday.
“I think these two losses have motivated us even more to finish this season strong and do the best we can,” she said. “We need to get the most wins we can to get into the tournament.”
McGreal is day-to-day with her injury, and it is unclear whether she will be available for Wednesday’s game.
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