Volleyball: Northwestern prepares for final home matches of season


Daily file photo by Jonathan Dai

Sarah Johnson reaches for a dig. The freshman libero notched a career-high 29 digs in last Saturday’s match against Wisconsin.

Jonah Dylan, Reporter


It’s been a rough season for Northwestern. But a win Saturday on Senior Night could, at least temporarily, provide a positive moment in a year that’s lacked them.

The Wildcats (8-20, 1-15 Big Ten) will host No. 24 Ohio State (17-11, 7-9) on Friday night and Maryland (11-17, 3-13) on Saturday night in the team’s last home games of the season and the last volleyball matches at Welsh-Ryan Arena before next year’s renovation.

NU is coming off a particularly rough loss to No. 3 Wisconsin last Saturday. The Cats won the first two sets but weren’t able to hold off the Badgers’ comeback effort, eventually falling in five sets. However, coach Shane Davis said his team has moved on.

“Saturday was tough,” he said. “I feel like we’re turning the corner with the group and with the program, but it’s also frustrating at the same time because you’re one or two plays from winning that match against Wisconsin.”

Despite the loss, NU enjoyed some standout performances against the Badgers. Junior setter Taylor Tashima had a career-high 61 assists; freshman libero Sarah Johnson had a career-high 29 digs; and junior outside hitter Symone Abbott had a career-high 26 kills on a career-high 72 attempts.

Davis was particularly impressed with Abbott’s play.

“(She) is really becoming the complete player that she desires to be, and we think she will be going forward,” he said.

Saturday night will mark the final home game for the Cats’ seniors, including three starters in middle blocker Maddie Slater, outside hitter Sofia Lavin and outside hitter Kayla Morin.

Despite what’s been a disappointing season, Slater said she’s excited for her final game at home.

“I’ve seen everyone else before me have their senior night,” she said. “It’s always been something I’ve looked forward to.”

But first, the Cats will have to face the Buckeyes, who present a unique challenge. Ohio State middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe is sixth in the Big Ten with 3.91 kills per set, just behind Abbott, who ranks fifth with 3.99 kills per set.

Both Davis and Slater mentioned the challenge stopping Sandbothe will bring.

“She gets a ton of their attempts, which is unusual for a Big Ten team,” Slater said. “Usually they’re very outside-heavy and this team is very middle-heavy. We’ve got to focus on defending the middle well.”

Saturday’s game plan will be different, as NU will have to find a way to stop Maryland freshman outside hitter Gia Milana, who ranks fourth in the Big Ten with 4.02 kills per set. However, the Cats’ back row could have an easy day, as the Terrapins rank 12th out of 14 teams in the conference in kills with just 11.97 kills per set.

Even if NU manages to top Maryland, Lavin said playing her final game at Welsh-Ryan will be a bittersweet moment.

“It’s a chapter of my life that’s really important to me, it’s been my entire life,” she said. “But all good things have to come to an end, and I’m just hoping we all go out on a good note.”

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