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Volleyball: Wildcats win Panther Invitational in Milwaukee

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Alana Walker digs a ball. The sophomore middle hitter was named to the Panther Invitational All-Tournament Team.

Alana Walker digs a ball. The sophomore middle hitter was named to the Panther Invitational All-Tournament Team.

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Alana Walker digs a ball. The sophomore middle hitter was named to the Panther Invitational All-Tournament Team.

Peter Warren, Sports Editor

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Volleyball


Heading into this weekend’s Panther Invitational in Milwaukee, Northwestern had lost only three matches this decade during its opening weekend of play.

The number did not change as the Wildcats (3-0) defeated South Dakota (2-1), New Hampshire (1-2) and Milwaukee (0-3) to start the season undefeated and claim the Panther Invitational title.

“Coming into the tournament, we all had high expectations,” sophomore opposite hitter Danyelle Williams said. “We came to get stuff done and I feel like that is what we did.”

NU opened the weekend with a win Friday against South Dakota. The teams split the first two sets before the Cats took the next two 25-20 and 25-20 to win the match.

Later in the day, NU battled with New Hampshire. The Cats lost the first set 25-20, but rebounded to win the next three 25-16, 25-21 and 25-19. Williams hit a career-high 16 kills with a .326 hitting percentage and sophomore outside hitter Nia Robinson striking 17 kills with a .342 hitting percentage.

The final game of the weekend was against invitational-hosts Milwaukee. NU won a close first set, 25-23, behind a five-point rally to finish the set. The Panthers fell behind in the second set, but managed to win nine of the final 12 points to win the second set, 27-25, and tie the match.

Coach Shane Davis said the early struggles against Milwaukee provided an important learning moment for his team.

“We didn’t necessarily get on our opponents tendencies as quickly as we wanted to and it allowed a team to play with some confidence and they played really well,” Davis said. “It was a good test, a good back-and-forth, but loved the resilience that this team showed.”

NU controlled the next two sets, winning 25-20 and 25-16. While the Panthers struggled on offense — hitting only .024 in the third set and 0.20 in the fourth set — the Cats showed prowess on both offense and defense. Junior libero Sarah Johnson bumped 22 digs, sophomore middle hitter Alana Walker tallied seven blocks and seven kills and Robinson hit 14 kills.

Freshman setter Kiara McNulty started all three games and impressed both the coaching staff and her teammates. McNulty achieved double-doubles in all three matches, averaging 46 assists and 16 digs per match during the invitational.

“She did a really great job running the show, commanding a presence and really staying confident as a 5-1 setter,” Davis said.

McNulty earned the start this weekend after sophomore setter Britt Bommer picked up an injury during the week. Before the injury she had been working as a 6-2-rotation setter and only began working in a 5-1 rotation — which the Cats utilized this weekend — after the injury. Going forward, Davis said he is not sure who will be the starter.

The only other freshman to start all three games was outside hitter Abryanna Cannon. The Michigan native scored 16 kills in the first game of the weekend and 18 kills in the tournament finale. Cannon, McNulty and Walker were all named to the All-Tournament Team.

Cannon and McNulty were not the only two freshmen to make an impact over the weekend. Freshman outside hitter/opposite hitter Ella Grbac started against South Dakota and logged 10 kills, while freshman libero Michelle Lee played in all 12 sets played this weekend and scored six aces and notched 29 digs.

“I like the way that our freshman played this weekend,” Johnson said. “(They) really stepped up and did a lot of good things for us.”

Email: peterwarren2021@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @thepeterwarren

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