Volleyball: Northwestern drops sixth straight match in home loss to Illinois


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Taylor Tashima sets the ball. The junior setter had 18 assists in a three-set loss for the Wildcats against No. 24 Illinois on Wednesday.

Aidan Markey, Reporter


The last thing struggling Northwestern needed was an injury. Unfortunately for the team, that’s just what it got.

With sophomore libero Katie Kniep out due to a back injury, the Wildcats (7-10, 0-5 Big Ten) fell at home to No. 24 Illinois (11-5, 4-1) on Wednesday in another sweep, 25-18, 25-13, 25-18. It was the sixth loss in a row and fourth consecutive straight-set defeat for NU.

With her team needing a libero, senior outside hitter Rafae Strobos stepped in and played the position for the first time in her career with the Cats.

“We fought hard, especially in the beginning,” Strobos said. “We let things get away from us a little bit.”

Strobos had 12 digs and two assists in the match.

Coach Shane Davis said Strobos’ effort was impressive given the sudden position switch after Kniep’s injury occurred the day of the match.

“I’m proud of what Rafae did on short notice,” Davis said. “Rafae did a great job of stabilizing our serve-receive. She came in and kept us in system a lot.”

Although the Cats showed defensive improvement from their last match, the team struggled on offense, tallying a mere .034 hitting percentage during the match.

The match marked the end of junior outside hitter Symone Abbott’s 26-match streak of consecutive matches with double-digit kills. She had eight kills and nine errors for the Cats in the loss.

NU could not keep up with its in-state foe as the match progressed. The Cats kept it close to start each set, but Illinois consistently put together large runs to put sets out of reach.

Davis said his team became predictable as the match wore on.

“We started out pretty well. We did a nice job of feeding our hitters and mixing things up,” Davis said. “We got into too much of a pattern, and that’s when they started loading up on us.”

Illinois, the ninth-best blocking team in the country at three per set, controlled the net for the entirety of the match. The Fighting Illini had five players notch six or more kills.

NU will now travel to No. 1 Minnesota in search of its first conference win.

With no timetable for the return of Kniep, the Cats must find a way to deal with the absence of their starting libero.

“Obviously it’s a big change, but there’s nothing we can do about it,” Strobos said. “We have to fight through adversity no matter who is on the court.”

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