The Daily Northwestern

Volleyball: Wildcats hopes to start season on high-note again

Lexi Pitsas digs a ball. The sophomore libero led the team in digs last season with 306.

Lexi Pitsas digs a ball. The sophomore libero led the team in digs last season with 306.

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Lexi Pitsas digs a ball. The sophomore libero led the team in digs last season with 306.

Peter Warren, Sports Editor

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With its 2018 campaign set to begin Friday, Northwestern hopes to reverse the narrative that has characterized its seasons in recent memory.

In coach Shane Davis’ two seasons at the helm, the Wildcats have been very successful during the first month of the season against nonconference opponents while finding itself at the bottom of the conference standings at the year’s end.

In 2017, NU started the season 10-2 with a nine-game win streak. Its only losses coming to LSU and VCU, two teams that made the NCAA Tournament.

But once the Big Ten schedule started, the Cats’ fortunes changed. They won only four games in the conference and lost 14 games via a sweep. Last season, six Big Ten teams made the NCAA Tournament with Nebraska and Penn State making the final four.

This season, the conference looks just as strong. Six teams are ranked in the preseason AVCA Coaches Poll. 2017 NCAA Champion Nebraska checks in at No. 2, while No. 4 Minnesota, No. 6 Penn State and No. 9 Wisconsin round out the Big Ten teams ranked in the top ten.

While struggling to end the campaign, the 2017 NU team was great on the attack. The team garnered a program-best hitting percentage of .247. While Symone Abbott, Gabrielle Hazen and Taylor Tashima graduated, sophomores outside hitter Nia Robinson and middle hitter Alana Walker return. Robinson earned First Team All-Big Ten Freshman honors after averaging 3.46 kills per set. Walker accumulated a .297 hitting percentage, a program-high for a freshman.

In addition to Robinson and Walker, junior libero Sarah Johnson and sophomore libero Lexi Pitsas are back after playing over 100 sets last year. While there are 11 returning players, none of them are seniors.

For the second year in a row, the Cats’ freshman class was a top-25 ranked recruiting class. The Class of 2022 was ranked No. 18 in the country by and features two top-100 players — outside hitters Abryanna Cannon and Hanna Lesiak.

NU begins its season at the Panther Invitational in Milwaukee this weekend. The Cats will take on South Dakota, New Hampshire and invitational-hosts Milwaukee. The invitational is the first of four competitions NU will participate in this fall.

Twitter: @thepeterwarren