Volleyball: Northwestern wins first Big Ten game versus Michigan State


Brian Meng / Daily Senior Staffer

Abryanna Cannon swings for a kill. The freshman outside hitter had 16 kills over the weekend.

Peter Warren, Sports Editor


At the end of the third set between Northwestern and Michigan State on Friday, Beardsley Gym erupted with its biggest cheer in a long while. For the first time in over a month — and for the first time in conference play — the Wildcats had won a volleyball match.

And NU (11-11, 1-9 Big Ten) had not only won, but done so in convincing fashion, sweeping the Spartans (15-8, 3-7) in straight sets and holding them to a .032 hitting percentage.

“Any win you get in the Big Ten is special,” coach Shane Davis said. “It’s been a while, we have had a gauntlet of a schedule right now and it’s been great to get a win.”

In the first set, NU utilized a balanced offensive approach on its way to a 25-21 win. Freshman outside hitter Abryanna Cannon, freshman outside hitter Ella Grbac and sophomore outside hitter Nia Robinson each accumulated four kills while also doing a solid job defensively. The Cats had five total team blocks, with Grbac contributing two solo blocks and sophomore setter Britt Bommer and sophomore middle hitter Alana Walker each notching two block assists.

The second set started sloppily with 13 of the first 24 points coming off errors. But only NU could make set-lasting adjustments as the Spartans’ passing and serve receive struggled for the entirety of the set. The Cats capitalized on their opponent’s errors to take the second set, 25-19.

“Our serve receive was really good tonight,” Grbac said. “When you have good serve receive, Britt can get a good set and everything just sort of falls into place.”

Again, errors were the name of the game in the third set. This time 10 of the first 15 points were service or attacking errors. Davis said Michigan State was only in-system 38% of the time, which effectively eliminated any attack from its middle hitters. In the final set, the Spartans had 10 attack errors to only six kills as the Cats cruised to a 25-20 win.

The next day, the NU went up against the other Big Ten team from the Mitten State — No. 13 Michigan — and lost in three sets. The Wolverines (18-3, 7-3) entered the game with the Cats off a five-set loss to No. 7 Illinois where two-time defending Big Ten Player of the Week Carly Skjodt had 76 total attempts.

Despite the taxing game Friday, Michigan jumped out to an early lead in the first set and never looked back. NU only led once during the set — after the first point — as the Wolverines held a significant advantage throughout most of the set.

In the second set, the Cats were able to keep it close and managed to tie the set at 23 before Michigan rattled off two straight points to win the set, 25-23. The third and final set was all Wolverines, as they won 25-14.

“We had a lot of unforced errors,” Cannon said. “We are a young team so we are a little inexperienced from bouncing back from our errors and resetting on the next play.”

Across both games, NU put in two of its best blocking performances of the season. Against Michigan State, the Cats had 13 total blocks — their best three-set total of the season — and 10.5 versus Michigan — NU’s second-best three-set total.

Grbac had five solo blocks against the Spartans while Walker had five block assists versus the Wolverines.

“The blocking needs to be a start for our defense because I think our defense is the part that lacks in our game,” Walker said. “If we can get the blocking to stay consistent and stay the way it is, we should be able to run more balls.”

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