Volleyball: Wildcats to welcome Maryland, Rutgers to Big Ten

Zachary Moore, Reporter

Northwestern (10-1) will begin its Big Ten schedule with back-to-back home games this weekend. NU will face off against Rutgers on Friday and Maryland on Saturday. The East Coast opponents will head west to Welsh-Ryan arena to attempt to get their first conference wins as members of the Big Ten.

“With Maryland and Rutgers coming in, it hasn’t changed what we want to do,” coach Keylor Chan said. “We still want to prepare for each opponent, we just don’t have a lot familiarity with those teams as other Big Ten teams.”

NU comes into Friday’s match winning five matches in a row. Rutgers (7-6) is led by Jeff “CJ” Werneke entering his seventh season as coach of the Scarlet Knights. On the court, the Scarlet Knights are anchored by Eden Frazier and Meme Fletcher. Frazier heads into the match boasting a .355 hitting percentage. Fletcher leads the Scarlet Knights with 134 kills this year.

Unfortunately, Rutgers’ first game in the prestigious Big Ten comes against a hungry Wildcats team that continues to improve as the season goes along.

“Our expectations are to come out and be the best team we can be,” said senior Monica McGreal. “The Big Ten has some really good competition and starting this weekend we will have to bring our A game.”

Night in and night out, the Cats will be tested and pushed to reach their potential.

“There have been flashes of really good play, but we haven’t played an entire match or even a whole set at our best,” McGreal said. “And that’s what is super exciting about moving forward; we have a lot of room for improvement.”

The NU defense ranks second, only behind Penn State, in opponent hitting percentage, holding teams to a measly .151 hitting percentage.

“We have a pretty diverse offense, we have a lot of people who can score the ball for us and we play some really good defense,” Chan said. “We have to work on taking care of some out-of-system attacking opportunities and taking care of the ball in tough situations.”

During the final practice before the two-game home stand, Chan stressed the minor details.

“We need to be cleaner Cats.” Chan said.

The Cats have a quick turnaround as they face Maryland (7-4) Saturday. The Terrapins head into Saturday’s match coming off two tough losses against No. 5 Washington and No. 10 USC.

The Cats will have the challenge of containing the two Terrapin standouts Ashleigh Crutcher and Adreene Elliott. Crutcher (123) and Elliott (118) combine for nearly half of the Maryland’s team kills (496).

It will be up to the NU team defense, especially libero Caroline Niedospial. Niedospial has accumulated 176 digs through 11 matches. She is averaging 4.51 digs per set.

“I try and lead by example by being that player that is always consistent.” Niedospal said. “The whole defense has to stay aggressive and not be afraid to hit the floor.”

The keys to victory remain the same for the Cats, regardless of the opponent.

“Taking care our side of the net, making sure we are organized and run our system the way we want to run them,” Chan said.

McGreal echoed Chan’s sentiment.

“We have to have energy and it doesn’t matter who our opponent is, but we have to be in the right mindset,” McGreal said. “We have to always stay aggressive and be competitive.”

As long as NU executes the game plan, a 2-0 start in the Big Ten will put NU at the top of the best women’s volleyball conference.

Email: [email protected]