A great sports day for Northwestern was capped off by the volleyball team getting its first win since Nov. 5.
The Wildcats (16-13, 6-12 Big Ten) picked up a much-needed straight-set win over Iowa (13-16, 5-13) on Saturday in a match that NU controlled from start to finish.
The Cats avoided allowing many runs from the Hawkeyes. This was a big shift from the team’s recent play in which they saw themselves consistently trying to climb out of holes.
“Our issues in the past have always been that we let teams get on runs,” senior Katie Dutchman said. “I think we controlled that really well. We knew how to stop them and when they needed to be stopped.”
The team’s communication played a big role in its ability to play so well, Dutchman said. From the players on the court to the ones on the bench, the sharing of information allowed the Cats to always be aware of what was going on.
Despite winning in straight sets, there was a point in the first set when it looked like it would not be smooth sailing for NU. Twice, after it appeared the Cats were starting to pull away, Iowa went on runs that forced NU to take timeouts. In both situations, the team came out strong following the timeout to regain control of the set, eventually winning 25-22.
Coach Keylor Chan pegged the team chemistry as one of the reasons the team was able to take control of the match whenever it was necessary. He has said over the past month that the team had been looking within to find a way to win and that during this past week there were heartfelt moments that helped bring them together.
This stronger mental connection among the players translated into great ball control, which Chan pointed to as another reason the team was able to come away with the victory.
“This team has kind of lived and died by first contacts, passing and serving,” he said. “Tonight we pretty much, I think, dominated those two statistical categories.”
The Cats were able to dominate more than just those two statistical categories in this commanding win. Sophomore Caleigh Ryan and freshman Taylor Tashima tied for the game-high in assists with 21, while Dutchman and fellow senior Savannah Paffen tied for the game-high in kills at 12. Junior Caroline Niedospial and sophomore Kayla Morin finished with the top two totals in digs in the match, with 15 and 10 respectively.
Niedospial said the team’s main focus was to not give up runs and be forced to comeback. The execution of that helped them get this “total team win.”
Although there are always aspects of the game to work on, and No. 10 Penn State comes to Evanston on Wednesday to take on the Cats, it’s hard to look at flaws after this impressive win.
“(We will) still work on aggressive serving because that takes teams out of their system,” Niedospial said. “Just perfecting all of the skills. But we just played really well tonight.”
The win snapped a four-game losing streak and put the Cats in a tie with Indiana for 10th place in the conference. It was also the team’s first win in straight sets since an Oct. 5 victory at home against Minnesota, which was ranked No. 18 at the time.
Chan said he feels good about the win and what it could mean for the team going forward, but was more concerned with how the team got win, not just that it won.
“The Big Ten is just hard, it’s really hard,” Chan said. “Anytime you can get a win it’s a good thing. A win can change the complexion of the next match and the next match after that. I think that it’s not really the win as the end product, but really it’s the process.”
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