Volleyball: Slater seeks to continue dominant play against No. 16 Minnesota

Junior+middle+blocker+Maddie+Slater+spikes+the+ball+past+the+defender.+The+Cats+will+look+to+create+chances+like+this+when+they+take+on+their+first+ranked+opponent+this+season.

Daily file photo by Sean Su

Junior middle blocker Maddie Slater spikes the ball past the defender. The Cats will look to create chances like this when they take on their first ranked opponent this season.

Sophie Mann, Photo Editor

Northwestern is hitting the road once again for what may be its most difficult matchup of the season so far.

The Wildcats (10-3, 2-0 Big Ten) take on their first ranked opponent this year, No. 16 Minnesota (9-3, 1-1), after an exciting winning weekend when junior middle blocker Maddie Slater was named Big Ten Player of the Week.

“The last week was a culmination of Slater’s career,” coach Keylor Chan said. “I don’t think it was necessarily anything other than her going out there and helping her team. We need her to work really hard and be a pillar of our offense.”

Even though Chan looks to Slater to lead the team to another road win, Slater attributes the Big Ten honor and the team’s success to the support and constant communication of her teammates.

Slater specifically mentioned her on-court connection with sophomore setter Taylor Tashima. Tashima’s ability to control play in the middle of the court allows her to assist her teammates on the outside, like Slater. This chemistry has proven valuable for Slater throughout the season, helping elevate her play.

“My connection with Taylor has been going really well,” Slater said. “I have been getting really good passes from my teammates, so it’s been really easy to get points.”

In 2014, the Cats squared off against the then-unranked Golden Gophers twice, beating them in front of the home crowd but falling on the road. This year, however, the Cats are riding a five-game winning streak to Minneapolis, and Slater said she thinks the team will be prepared to play on another team’s court, even if that opponent is ranked.

“It’ll be a good test for us to see how hard we’ve worked this season,” Slater said. “We’ve played most of our games not at home, so I think we’ll be ready.”

Going into their first meeting with Minnesota this season, the Cats have been working to strengthen their middle blocking and outer hitting for the upcoming matchup. This will be crucial since the Golden Gophers boast Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week, middle blocker Paige Tapp.

Despite Tapp’s threat and Minnesota’s home court advantage, Chan said he believes the team can pull through if it keeps playing at the level it has been throughout the season.

“We’re confident in the process we’ve put through, so we haven’t done anything different or special for Minnesota,” he said.

Although attention has shifted to Slater, sophomore outside hitter Symone Abbott leads the team in kills and said Slater remains crucial for the team.

“She’s becoming a really solid, consistent middle for us,” Abbott said. “If she keeps up her game, we can beat anybody.”

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