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Volleyball: No. 24 Northwestern visits No. 5 Penn State looking for big upset

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Volleyball: No. 24 Northwestern visits No. 5 Penn State looking for big upset

Senior Katie Dutchman and the No. 24 Wildcats venture to State College, Pennsylvania, on Wednesday to take on the No. 5 Nittany Lions. Penn State has not lost a set at home this season.

Senior Katie Dutchman and the No. 24 Wildcats venture to State College, Pennsylvania, on Wednesday to take on the No. 5 Nittany Lions. Penn State has not lost a set at home this season.

Sean Su/Daily Senior Staffer

Senior Katie Dutchman and the No. 24 Wildcats venture to State College, Pennsylvania, on Wednesday to take on the No. 5 Nittany Lions. Penn State has not lost a set at home this season.

Sean Su/Daily Senior Staffer

Sean Su/Daily Senior Staffer

Senior Katie Dutchman and the No. 24 Wildcats venture to State College, Pennsylvania, on Wednesday to take on the No. 5 Nittany Lions. Penn State has not lost a set at home this season.

Zach Moore, Reporter

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No. 24 Northwestern (13-2, 3-1 Big Ten) begins a challenging road stretch on Wednesday against powerhouse No. 5 Penn State (15-2, 3-1 Big Ten).

The Wildcats are coming off an impressive win against then-No. 18 Minnesota on Sunday, but Penn State is among the best teams in the nation. The Nittany Lions lead the country in hitting percentage (.356), the only team over .300 in the Big Ten, while holding opponents to a conference-low .130 hitting percentage.

Senior Nia Grant can be unstoppable at times, posting a league-best .487 hitting clip. NU will also have to stop junior Aiyana Whitney, junior Megan Courtney and standout freshman Illinois native Ali Frantti, who leads the Nittany Lions with 179 kills. Penn State has the top service game in the nation because of senior Micha Hancock. Hancock alone has 59 aces compared with Northwestern’s 67 aces.

This will be the Cats’ first Big Ten road game this year. The game will be played in State College, Pennsylvania, where the Nittany Lions are undefeated this season. Penn State is 7-0 at home and have not dropped one set. The Nittany Lions are 249-18 all-time at home against Big Ten opponents. Penn State will have extra motivation after slipping two spots in the most recent AVCA coaches poll, and with a win, coach Russ Rose will become the NCAA’s all-time wins leader.

Although the odds are stacked against NU, Penn State has shown that they can be beat. Most recently, No. 8 Nebraska was able to upset the Nittany Lions in four sets.

What will it take to win?

The Cats have to play a near perfect match, and it starts with the senior leaders. Katie Dutchman and Monica McGreal must help the team keep their emotions in check when under duress. With their backs against the wall multiple times throughout the season, the cardiac Cats have proven they have the ability to come back to win tough matches.

NU will need continued strong play from freshmen Symone Abbott and Taylor Tashima. The Nittany Lions are only eleventh in blocking in the Big Ten. Tashima must place the ball where the hitters can attack Penn State at the net. Abbott, along with outside hitters sophmore Kayla Morin and senior Yewande Akanbi, is needed heavily to crack through the tough Penn State defense.

“Penn State is the best team in the nation,” Abbott said. “We must play the best volleyball we can, not try to get to their level but stay on our level and gut it out against a great team.”

However, the key to victory will be the NU defense and its ability to slow down the Nittany Lion attack. Junior libero Caroline “Carks” Niedospial must communicate with her team and put the pieces in the right place. Niedospial is averaging 4.79 digs per set, second in the Big Ten.

The Wildcats cannot beat themselves. Throughout the season, passing and servicing have been areas of concern for coach Keylor Chan. The Cats cannot have self-inflicted errors playing against a team of Penn State’s caliber.

Email: zacharymoore2016@u.northwestern.edu

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