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Volleyball: Cats face tough task with defending national champions

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Volleyball: Cats face tough task with defending national champions

Northwestern huddles up before resuming play. The Wildcats are hoping to achieve their first victory of the Big Ten campaign this weekend.

Northwestern huddles up before resuming play. The Wildcats are hoping to achieve their first victory of the Big Ten campaign this weekend.

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Northwestern huddles up before resuming play. The Wildcats are hoping to achieve their first victory of the Big Ten campaign this weekend.

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Northwestern huddles up before resuming play. The Wildcats are hoping to achieve their first victory of the Big Ten campaign this weekend.

Peter Warren, Sports Editor

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Northwestern opened its conference slate with two road contests, including one against a top-20 ranked team on its home floor. The Wildcats’ road to the upper division of the Big Ten does not get any easier this weekend.

No. 3 Nebraska (11-1, 2-0 Big Ten) — the winner of two of the last three national championships — will visit Beardsley Gym on Friday before Iowa (9-4, 1-1) makes the trek to battle NU (10-4, 0-2) in a Sunday matinee.

“This past week we have been really focused on getting healthy,” coach Shane Davis said. “We are slowly getting a few of our players back which allows us to be a little bit more consistent and better in practice as well without throwing so many moving pieces around.”

Two players whose status for this weekend is uncertain are freshman outside hitter Abryanna Cannon and sophomore outside hitter Nia Robinson. Both players did not play last weekend at Indiana and at No. 16 Purdue.

Cannon has not played since September 8, when she left Northwestern’s victory over Butler in the middle of the match. The only games Robinson has missed were last week’s Big Ten matchups. Despite missing the contests, Robinson leads the team in kills with 178 and points per set with 4.80.

“The weekend is up in the air right now; I’m still in the recovery process,” Robinson said. “But we have had a lot of freshman step up and they have been doing a great job on the outside. I’m really proud of them.”

Without Cannon and Robinson, freshman outside hitter and opposite hitter Ella Grbac and freshman outside hitter Hanna Lesiak have picked up a lot of the slack on the offensive side of the ball.

Grbac and Lesiak each delivered over 50 total attempts last week with Grbac leading the team with 29 kills. Davis said Grbac has done a really good job in her first few weeks playing collegiate volleyball.

“With the injuries we have thrown her on the right side, we have thrown her on the left side,” Davis said. “She’s one that continues to develop on a daily, continues to gain confidence on a daily basis. She’s one that we are obviously really excited about.”

Nebraska has lost only one game this season — its opening day match against No. 11 Florida. Since then, the Cornhuskers have won 11 straight games and have only gone to a winner-take-all fifth set one time when they visited No. 10 Creighton.

Senior outside hitter and two-time NCAA Championship Most Outstanding Player Mikaela Foecke and senior libero Kenzie Maloney lead the Nebraska team that, like NU, is a youth-oriented squad. The team has five freshman and six sophomores compared to one junior and three seniors.

“We are going to focus a lot on our side of the net and limiting errors,” Robinson said. “If we play with a lot of energy, heart and passion, we will take both of these teams.”

Seven Big Ten teams are ranked in the top 25 in the country, including five teams in the top 10. Nebraska is the highest ranked of the Big Ten teams with fellow conference undefeateds No. 6 Minnesota and No. 7 Illinois joining them in the upper echelon of the rankings.

But not all of the Big Ten’s ranked teams have jumped out to good starts in the conference. No. 9 Penn State, a national semifinalist last season, is 0-2 in the Big Ten and Michigan State, which recieved votes in this week’s poll, is also without a win through two conference contests.

“As of right now, everybody is saying this is anybody’s conference,” Lesiak said. “There have been a lot of upsets lately. It’s going to be a really surprising year.”

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

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