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Volleyball: Northwestern to play Illinois in big midweek game Wednesday

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Volleyball: Northwestern to play Illinois in big midweek game Wednesday

Abryanna Cannon hits the ball. The freshman outside hitter is third on the team with 256 points on the season.

Abryanna Cannon hits the ball. The freshman outside hitter is third on the team with 256 points on the season.

Brian Meng / Daily Senior Staffer

Abryanna Cannon hits the ball. The freshman outside hitter is third on the team with 256 points on the season.

Brian Meng / Daily Senior Staffer

Brian Meng / Daily Senior Staffer

Abryanna Cannon hits the ball. The freshman outside hitter is third on the team with 256 points on the season.

Peter Warren, Sports Editor

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If Northwestern’s season was split into quarters, each segment would tell a very different story.

The first quarter of the season would be the first month of the campaign when the Wildcats travelled to nonconference invitationals and won 10 games.

The second quarter would be the first eight games of the Big Ten slate, where NU (15-13, 5-11 Big Ten) failed to win a contest and won only four sets total as the Cats played six games against top-25 teams.

The third quarter would be a stretch of six games where NU went 4-2 in conference play — its best six-game Big Ten record in the coach Shane Davis era — and proved to the rest of the conference they are no pushover.

Now, the Cats are in the middle of the last component — the return to Welsh-Ryan Arena for the final six games of the regular season. NU started off this run successfully by splitting a pair of weekend matches at Welsh-Ryan with a loss to No. 7 Penn State and a victory over Rutgers.

A pivotal point in this stretch comes Wednesday as No. 4 Illinois (24-3, 13-3) travels north on Interstate 57 to play the Cats in a midweek rivalry game.

The Fighting Illini enter the game as one of the hottest teams in the country, riding an impressive nine-game winning streak. Their hot spell includes wins over No. 7 Wisconsin, No. 19 Michigan, No. 6 Nebraska and No. 7 Penn State.

As a result of their successful stretch, Illinois has vaulted to No. 2 in the NCAA RPI rankings. That places them above Minnesota — who is undefeated in Big Ten play — and BYU — who is undefeated for the whole season.

NU and the Fighting Illini first played on Oct. 6 in Champaign and Illinois pulled out an easy 3-0 sweep. Outside hitter Jacqueline Quade led the Fighting Illini with 11 kills as the team as a whole had a hitting percentage of .372.

“Illinois is a really good team,” freshman outside hitter Abryanna Cannon said after the loss. “We were hammering a lot of balls and they were just digging and sending them back. We need improvement as far as attacking goes.”

On the opposite side of the net, the Cats struggled to get kills and finished with only 24 kills and a .034 hitting percentage. That percentage is easily the worst of the season for NU with the 24 kills also being a season low.

But a lot has changed in the five weeks since the two teams last matched up, especially with the Wildcats.

Sophomore outside hitter Nia Robinson has had six games with double-digit kills, including one contest where she had 26 kills on 54 attempts, and is currently ranked fifth in the conference in kills per set. Cannon has had four 10-plus kill games during that span as well.

Sophomore middle hitter Alana Walker has continued to be the rock of the team, playing in every set and starting every game. During the past six games, she has not had a hitting percentage below .350 and is top-12 in the conference in hitting percentage and blocks during Big Ten play.

But Davis still thinks the Cats can do better offensively.

“I like what our block and defense is doing,” Davis said. “We just need to find some better rhythm offensively and find some point production.”

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

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