Volleyball: Wildcats lose to defending national champion Nittany Lions

Max Gelman, Reporter

Looking to add another win to a 3-1 record in Big Ten play, Northwestern came up short Wednesday against Penn State.

With its first top 25 ranking since November 2010, No. 24 NU (13-3, 3-2 Big Ten) came into the game looking to upset defending national champion No. 5 Penn State (16-2, 4-1). The Wildcats were fresh off their first win against a ranked opponent this season after defeating Minnesota last Sunday, while the Nittany Lions surprisingly fell to No. 8 Nebraska last Friday, their first loss in Big Ten play.

The first set of the match was tightly contested. Penn State took an early lead, but NU never fell more than five points behind. Senior outside hitter Yewande Akanbi had some excellent kills; however freshman outside hitter Symone Abbott, who had a career game against Minnesota, struggled as she found most of her kills blocked at the net. The Nittany Lions’ timing was extraordinary this set, and Abbott wasn’t able to get much going. She finished the set with only two kills. Near the end of the set, Penn State began pulling away and eventually won 25-20.

Beginning the second set, Abbott’s struggles looked like they had vanished, as she killed three of the Cats’ first five points. The Nittany Lions then put their foot on the gas pedal, moving way out in front, at one point going on a 12-4 run.

During this set there was a bit of a scary moment as a Penn State kill slammed sophomore defensive specialist Candice Yager in the face and gave her a bloody nose. Playing tough, Yager took a few moments to get herself cleaned up and came right back out on the court without missing a play. This brief stoppage didn’t halt Penn State’s momentum, and they were able to take advantage of some costly NU mistakes. The Nittany Lions won the second set handily 25-17.

In order to win, the Cats would have to fight tooth and nail to comeback and upset the Nittany Lions on the road. Cleaning up their game would prove vital for the Cats, as they concluded the second with 14 errors compared to the Nitanny Lions’ seven. Furthermore, NU’s hitting percentage was more than .200 points lower than that of Penn State. NU would need to be more efficient on the ground if it wanted to emerge victorious.

At the start of the third set, NU and Penn State played evenly, resembling the first set, by splitting the first 12 points. The Cats looked like they had made some adjustments after that disappointing second set. However, Penn State again capitalized on NU’s mistakes, going on a 9-1 run and taking a commanding lead. The Cats started to rally at the end but it was too little too late. Penn State won the set 25-17, sweeping the Cats in straight sets.

Up next on the schedule for the Cats, who have now lost two out of their last three, is a road game against the Ohio State Buckeyes. NU will look to rebound against a Buckeye team that has won its past three and is tied with the Cats in conference play at 3-2.

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