Volleyball: Northwestern looks for home win against Ohio State

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Volleyball: Northwestern looks for home win against Ohio State

Abryanna Cannon, Michelle Lee and Sarah Johnson wait for serve. The Wildcats won their second Big Ten game Wednesday.

Abryanna Cannon, Michelle Lee and Sarah Johnson wait for serve. The Wildcats won their second Big Ten game Wednesday.

Daily file photo by Brian Meng

Abryanna Cannon, Michelle Lee and Sarah Johnson wait for serve. The Wildcats won their second Big Ten game Wednesday.

Daily file photo by Brian Meng

Daily file photo by Brian Meng

Abryanna Cannon, Michelle Lee and Sarah Johnson wait for serve. The Wildcats won their second Big Ten game Wednesday.

Benjamin Rosenberg, Copy Chief

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Coming off its first five-set win of the year at Iowa on Wednesday night, Northwestern returns home on Sunday afternoon to play Ohio State.

The Wildcats lost nine of their first 10 conference matches, but seven of the losses were against ranked teams, including five against top-10 foes. Four of NU’s (12-11, 2-9 Big Ten) next five matches are against teams in the bottom half of the Big Ten standings. Two of those are against the Buckeyes (12-11, 3-8), who have lost three straight and five of their last six.

“We had a gauntlet of a Big Ten schedule for our first 10 matches,” coach Shane Davis said. “Now we’re seeing a lot of good opportunities for us moving forward.”

Against the Hawkeyes, the Cats dominated the first set and dropped a nailbiter in set two before leading throughout the third. NU was uncompetitive in set four, but pulled away from Iowa in the final set to secure the victory.

The Cats hit .321 in the match, by far their highest mark in conference play and well above their average of .194, which ranks last in the Big Ten. NU’s 71 assists were also a season high.

All but two of those assists belonged to sophomore setter Britt Bommer, who also had nine digs, two blocks and an ace. Her previous career-high in assists was 51, set in a mid-September win over Loyola.

“It all starts with the pass,” Bommer said. “We’ve been working in practice on getting the ball high in the middle of the court so that I can have all three or four options open. Our passers did a fantastic job.”

Bommer distributed her sets to different players with aplomb. Four Cats finished with double-digit kills, led by a career-high 26 from sophomore outside hitter Nia Robinson. Sophomore middle hitter Alana Walker’s 15 kills were also a career high.

Robinson now ranks fourth in the Big Ten with 4.06 kills per set after finishing 10th in the category in 2017.

“Nia Robinson did an awesome job,” Davis said. “She was set in a lot of really tough situations, and she produced. Britt Bommer did a really great job delivering the ball. Those two had a really nice connection going throughout the entire match.”

On the opposite side of net, the Buckeyes are led by middle blocker Lauren Witte, who ranks in the top-10 in the conference in hitting percentage. Opposite hitter Vanja Bukilic leads them in kills with 251. Ohio State has an impressive win over No. 4 Penn State, but overall has struggled against the brutal Big Ten schedule. NU has lost six straight matches to the Buckeyes since last beating them in 2013.

The Cats are a very young team this year, with just three juniors and no seniors, so Davis has stressed improvement on a game-to-game basis.

“They’ve done a really good job of taking each day one by one,” Davis said. “You’re seeing the maturity of the group, you’re seeing them not make the same mistakes over and over. That just shows the great growth mindset for what they’re doing.”

Email: benjaminrosenberg2021@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @bxrosenberg

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