Volleyball: Northwestern loses to Penn State, beats Rutgers in first games at reopened Welsh-Ryan


Daily file photo by Brian Meng

Michelle Lee serves a ball. The freshman libero had 13 digs against Rutgers.

Charlie Goldsmith, Sports Social Media Editor


While coach Shane Davis said he tells his players to approach the biggest points of a set as aggressively as the rest, freshman Michelle Lee and sophomore Nia Robinson said they could not disagree more.

After losing 3-0 to Penn State (20-5, 11-4 Big Ten) on Friday in the team’s opener at Welsh-Ryan Arena, Northwestern (15-13, 5-11) took a 2-1 set lead Saturday against Rutgers (6-23, 0-16)and secured the 3-1 win with one of the Wildcats’ best sets of the season.

And a big reason for it was Robinson’s clutch performance — three kills in the final eight points.

“Personally, the (end) is my favorite part of the game,” Robinson said. “Because you’re going to take the (win). Even if it’s tight, you just feel that excitement and that energy. It’s just so much fun.”

After having a chance to win the match in the third set with the score tied at 20, NU had an unforced error and a missed serve before eventually losing the set 25-21. After that, according to Lee, the Cats started putting Robinson in a better position to finish points with kills and showed more energy than they had before.

The team had a .281 hitting percentage in the fourth set and had 12 kills to put the match away. Robinson led the team with 15 overall kills, and freshman Abryanna Cannon added 13. Freshman Kiara McNulty led the team with 47 of its 49 assists, and the Cats had five aces in the game.

“We started taking some chances on some of their attackers and running some traps,” Davis said about the Cats’ improved fourth set. “We were kind of doing that all match, but we weren’t doing it that well. We just got in a position where we were executing better.”

NU won the fourth set 25-14 and improved to 11th place in the Big Ten with four games remaining.

Against the No. 7 Nittany Lions on Friday, the Cats played three competitive sets but lost them by a combined 15 points. Robinson finished with a team-high 12 kills, but five Penn State players had five or more.

With a matchup against second-place Illinois on Wednesday, Robinson said the team’s feeling pressure to play their best volleyball in the stretch run of the season. Against the Scarlet Knights, Robinson was at her best down the stretch of the game, and she’s hoping the team continues having with the sense of urgency it had the rest of the season.

“The teams that keep improving at the end are the ones that are going to be winning,” she said. “And we are climbing a mountain so fast and increasing that no one’s going to be able to touch us.”

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