Volleyball: After five straight sweeps, Northwestern looks for an upset against Michigan


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Taylor Tashima reaches for the ball. The junior setter and the Wildcats are still looking for their first Big Ten win this season.

Jonah Dylan, Reporter


Northwestern badly needs to win a Big Ten match. But before that, the Wildcats need to focus on winning a single set.

NU (7-11, 0-6 Big Ten) will try to do just that Wednesday night against No. 18 Michigan (15-3, 4-2 Big Ten). The Cats last won a set five games ago during their loss to Indiana on Sept. 21. Meanwhile, the Wolverines come in off two straight victories and have won four of their last five.

Wednesday will be NU’s third straight game against a ranked opponent. The Cats were topped by No. 24 Illinois on Oct. 5 and lost to then-No. 1 Minnesota on Sunday.

NU did come close to the Gophers in the second set. The Cats’ 21 points in that set marked the first time in three matches NU scored 20 or more points in a single set. However, junior outside hitter Symone Abbott said the team isn’t dwelling on the past.

“You gotta keep pushing and get excited to play great teams every single day,” Abbott said.

NU continues to seek balance in its offense. Abbott is third in the Big Ten in kills per set, but she gets the vast majority of junior setter Taylor Tashima’s assists. Despite the loss Sunday, coach Shane Davis said the ball distribution was better.

“In the previous matches we’ve been setting Symone 50 balls in a match, and this time we were able to get others involved,” Davis said.

Abbott has nearly twice as many kills — 260 — as junior middle blocker Gabrielle Hazen, who is second on the team in kills with 136. Senior Kayla Morin is third with just 106.

Both Abbott and Hazen said the team plays better when it focuses on having fun and doesn’t dwell on the losses.

“We play a lot better when we’re just going crazy and having a good time together on the court,” Hazen said.

Abbott and Hazen will have a tough time getting the ball past Michigan libero Jenna Lerg, who leads the Big Ten in digs with 282 and digs per set with 4.55. The Wolverines are also second in the Big Ten in kills.

Abbott’s play could be the key to overcoming the Wolverines’ attack, as she has been held to single-digit kills each of the past two matches after her 26-game double-digit kill streak was snapped.

The Cats have now lost seven straight matches, including their first six Big Ten outings. Despite the rough start to the season, Davis said his team hasn’t lost hope.

“It’s all about trying to get one percent better from the previous day,” Davis said. “We just continue to set our sights on the next match. It’s not a group that’s sitting back there and dwelling on the fact they lost the last match. It’s all about looking ahead and figuring out a way to win the next one.”

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