Volleyball: Northwestern prepares for pair of weekend matches against top-3 teams


Daily file photo by Jonathan Dai

Symone Abbott swings for a kill. The junior outside hitter will have to contend with a strong opposing presence at the net in weekend matches with No. 2 Minnesota and No. 3 Wisconsin.

Aidan Markey, Reporter


On Oct. 10, 2015, Northwestern took down No. 3 Penn State in Welsh-Ryan Arena, 3-2. Now, 13 months removed from the program’s biggest win, the Wildcats have a chance to take down another goliath or two.

NU (8-18, 1-13 Big Ten) welcomes two of the top three teams in the country this weekend. No. 3 Wisconsin (20-3, 12-2) and No. 2 Minnesota (19-4, 11-3) will visit Evanston on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, as the Cats look to do the seemingly impossible and snap a five-match losing streak in the process.

Junior middle blocker Gabrielle Hazen said though the team’s opponents’ rankings are daunting, this weekend’s contests are just like any other.

“We prepare the same for every team,” Hazen said. “We want to play our volleyball, regardless of who is on the other side of the net.”

The team is coming off a pair of weekend losses to Michigan State and Michigan. Although the Spartans dominated NU, the Cats came back and gave the Wolverines a competitive match in which the team showed a consistent attack and a disciplined serve-receive.

Coach Shane Davis said the team is looking to carry the momentum from the match with Michigan into this weekend.

“We need to continue to build off of how we played at Michigan. It was one of our more complete matches,” Davis said. “We’re playing more consistently, and that is going to be key against two teams that are upperclassmen-heavy and are consistently competitive with every point.”

NU, though confident with its momentum, must prepare for the Golden Gophers’ and Badgers’ massive presence at the net. Minnesota is the top blocking team in the Big Ten at 2.92 blocks per set, and Wisconsin, ranked sixth in the category, comes in at 2.52 blocks per set.

The team has struggled with its opponents’ size and blocking presence in the past, making this weekend’s matchups especially challenging. Freshman libero Sarah Johnson said the Cats’ poise and commitment to their game plan will be imperative if the team is to compete with two of the nation’s elite squads.

“We need to be smart,” Johnson said. “We’re not going to change our systems; we’re going to do what we do best.”

NU is in the middle of a four-match stretch against ranked teams. This is not the first such grueling portion of the schedule for the Cats, as the team lost five consecutive games against ranked opponents, all sweeps, from Oct. 5 to Oct. 15.

Davis said aggressive but savvy play is the key if the Cats want to earn a different result this time around.

“We have to be able to serve them aggressively and keep them off the net,” he said. “If we can limit some of their options and some of their rotations, it’s going to help us out a lot.”

Even if the team were to execute its plans for the weekend, Davis said the tough plays in crunch time will decide whether NU takes down a top-three opponent for the second consecutive season.

“At the end of the day, we can be in good spots,” Davis said. “But we have to start making plays.”

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