Volleyball: Wildcats can’t find comfort at end of long road trip

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Daily file photo by Nathan Richards

Sophomore outside hitter Symone Abbott hits the ball through the block. Abbott posted a team-high 10 kills in the Cats’ loss in Madison against No. 19 Wisconsin.

Sophie Mann, Photo Editor

The second half of Northwestern’s four-game Big Ten road trip proved to be the polar opposite of the first.

Looking forward to two weeks of home-court advantage, the worn-out Wildcats (10-5, 2-2 Big Ten) trudged back to Evanston this weekend after a 3-0 loss to No. 19 Wisconsin (10-4, 2-2).

Though prospects looked promising for NU in its first two conference matchups against Maryland and Rutgers, squaring off against Wisconsin proved too much to overcome. The Cats finished with three fewer kills, 0.107 lower hitting percentage and eight more errors than the Badgers. This echoed NU’s performance against a then-No. 6 Wisconsin last year, when the Cats lost 3-0, even with home-court advantage.

Coach Keylor Chan expressed frustration with conference play, as 11 Big Ten teams are ranked in the Top 25. The competitive conference leaves little room for error.

“The trick about being good in the Big Ten is that you have to out-improve people,” Chan said. “We have to work diligently and smartly, but we have to improve at a rate that’s faster than anyone else.”

Being on the road for two straight weeks and to playing two ranked teams this past week took its toll on players off the court, too.

Sophomore setter Taylor Tashima said going against fierce competition is just a part of the battle the team has to fight when on the road.

“(It’s) definitely been a grind,” Tashima said. “(It’s) hard when you’re keeping up with schoolwork, your travel schedule and keeping your body healthy.”

Tashima and sophomore middle blocker Symone Abbott said the most important thing for the team to work on is reducing the number of errors per game. Abbott leads in the team in both kills and blocks and had the most kills of any Wildcat player this weekend with a total of 10. Even with those statistics, Abbott noted she needs to work on her consistency on the court to lead her team to success, especially in the Big Ten.

“Especially in the Wisconsin and Minnesota games, our communication has improved, even though these were losses,” Abbott said. “My primary focus is trying to be more consistent because, even if I have the most kills in a certain game, I have a lot of errors.”

After these past four Big Ten matchups on the road, the Cats are looking forward to the friendly confines of Evanston, but their work will not — and cannot — stop because they will be at home. Abbott noted that playing top-10 teams is a regular occurrence in the Big Ten, so going into practice with the mentality and intensity of real game play is vital for success.

In addition, Chan commented that the team working “diligently and smartly” to get to the elite level of some of the other Big Ten teams is a priority, especially with their time at home.

Most importantly, the team needs to be ready to bring its A-game in its upcoming matchups against Ohio State and Penn State this weekend, both teams in the top three in the Big Ten and top 10 in the NCAA. According to Tashima, the team needs to be ready to show up because “anyone can beat anyone any night.”

“In the years past, anything can happen, so everyone just has to show up to play,” Tashima said.  “You just have to be ready to battle.”

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