Northwestern (12-1, 2-0 Big Ten) defeated Rutgers (7-8, 0-2 Big Ten) on Friday and Maryland (7-6, 0-2 conf.) on Saturday.
The Wildcats breezed past the Scarlet Knights in three sets (25-8, 25-16, 25-21) and held on to survive against the Terrapins in five sets (25-15, 23-25, 23-25, 25-16, 17-15) to start Big Ten 2-0.
The Cats dominated the first set, opening a quick 12-4 lead forcing an early timeout. The first play after the timeout was an ace by freshman Taylor Tashima. NU scored 5 consecutive points with Tashima on serve, forcing yet another Rutgers timeout.
“I think they were nervous and we weren’t and you could really see the difference,” coach Keylor Chan said. “And we knew they would play better after that.”
The Cats put together their best set of the year. NU shut down the Scarlet Knights’ offense, holding them to a hitting percentage of -.40, while posting a hitting percentage of .684. Rutgers was unable to handle the versatile attack from the Cats, losing the first set 25-8.
“It is the best set we played thus far,” sophomore Kayla Morin said. “We kept them under ten points which was a big step for us.”
The Cats started the second set with sophomore Maddie Slater delivering a block at the net. It was not as pretty as the first set, but the Cats outscored the Scarlet Knights 15-4 to finish out the set. Senior Katie Dutchman put the exclamation point on the set with a thunderous kill to give NU the set 25-16.
“Overall we played really well, we came out really strong in this match,” Morin said. “There were some times that Rutgers went on a few runs but we did a good job coming together and earning back those points in the second and third sets.”
The third set went back and forth before Tashima carried the Cats on a 5-point run, widening the margin to 23-18 late in the set. The match ended with a kill by freshman Symone Abbott, giving the third set to the Cats 25-21.
“It feels good, but it wasn’t as smooth as we wanted it to be,” Abbott said.
NU finished out the back-to-back games with a victory against Maryland.
NU got off to a fast start, as the Terps could not score off the Cats’ defense. NU collected 19 digs while holding the Maryland offense to a .025 hitting percentage. Morin led the Cats in the first set with six of the 15 NU kills, and NU took the set 25-15.
“Our girls executed well.” Chan said. “They took advantage of the match-ups and we controlled the game with the servant pass.”
The Terps shook off their first-set woes and put pressure on the Cats in the second. The teams traded leads multiple times, but NU dropped the second set 23-25 as Maryland’s Ashleigh Crutcher carried the Terps by driving home eight kills in the set.
Senior Monica McGreal urged the Wildcats along in the third set, telling her team to be aggressive. The play of McGreal and Morin pulled the Cats within 1 point late in the set, but NU had seven errors in the set and lost 23-25.
“It came down to passing the ball.” Chan said. “When you don’t pass the ball well in this conference you can’t control the tempo of the game and it got away from us in sets two and three.”
During the fourth set, NU cleaned up its offense. The Cats regained momentum, scoring six consecutive points. Tashima and senior Yewande Akanbi made sure the Cats kept things rolling. NU bounced back with the match on the line to take the fourth set 25-16.
“It’s just us. We are not playing our game we just need to come out on the floor and step up our game.” Tashima said. “That’s what happened in the fourth. We ran our offense cleaner, put down some balls, and it carried into the fifth set.”
In the fifth and final set, the Cats and Terps put on an amazing show. When Maryland needed a point, they leaned on Crutcher to generate the offense. With the Cats down 11-13, coach Chan called timeout to gather his team for a final push. Coming out of the timeout, NU went to Dutchman and Akanbi to tie things up. The Cats rallied to win the decisive set 17-15.
Taking down the Terps gave the Cats their second Big Ten win.
“It’s a big deal being 2-0 in the Big Ten,” Tashima said. “The Big Ten is the best conference in the nation. You have a lot of teams ranked in the top 25. It was important for us to start 2-0.”
NU will not have much time to celebrate, as they host No. 5 Wisconsin on Wednesday at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Email: [email protected]