Volleyball: Northwestern faces off against No. 7 Penn State

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Volleyball: Northwestern faces off against No. 7 Penn State

Britt Bommer sets the volleyball. The sophomore setter returned from injury Wednesday.

Britt Bommer sets the volleyball. The sophomore setter returned from injury Wednesday.

Daily file photo by Brian Meng

Britt Bommer sets the volleyball. The sophomore setter returned from injury Wednesday.

Daily file photo by Brian Meng

Daily file photo by Brian Meng

Britt Bommer sets the volleyball. The sophomore setter returned from injury Wednesday.

Manasa Pagadala, Reporter

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As Northwestern moves into its last few games of the season, the Wildcats have had time to reflect on their whirlwind of a season this year. After a string of eight consecutive losses against Big Ten teams to start conference play, the team broke their losing streak last month against Michigan State.

Since then, NU has picked up confidence-boosting wins against Iowa, Ohio State and Rutgers and dropped tough three-set losses to No. 19 Michigan, No. 4 Illinois and No. 7 Penn State. Yet, they have gotten “enough determination to last till the end of the season.”

For this Saturday’s away game, the Cats face off against the Nittany Lions in State College, Pennsylvania for the second time this season. NU’s last game against Penn State was this past weekend in the new Welsh-Ryan Arena and had the highest attendance for a home match since 2014, with over 2,200 fans watching the back-and-forth battle. The match ultimately ended in a three-set sweep for Penn State.

Compared to previous games against top-ten teams, the Cats came closer to victory, scoring at least 20 points in each of the three sets.

In the first set, freshman outside hitter Abryanna Cannon and sophomore outside hitter Nia Robinson aggressively attacked the net with five and six kills, respectively. Robinson led the Cats in hitting throughout the game, ending with a match-high 12 kills while Cannon pushed NU to outblock the Nittany Lions, six to five overall. The Cats carried the momentum into their four-set win against Rutgers the following day.

Their game against the Fighting Illini on Wednesday, however, was another rough patch for NU. Against Illinois, the Cats struggled to gain traction and dropped all three sets, finishing with a negative hitting percentage for the second time this season.

“We started playing with a little bit of fear and that carried over to the second and third; we lost our competitiveness,” said coach Shane Davis . “They have a lot of better players that don’t make mistakes and control the ball really well. And we didn’t do anything at all like that outside the first half of the first set.”

Pulling off the upset against the Nittany Lions requires “responding to losing properly” and using their last loss as a learning experience against Penn State’s prestigious women’s volleyball program.

Like the Cats, the Nittany Lions are also a young team, with nine underclassmen, yet they have performed above their age thus far in the Big Ten. They have won 12 out of their 17 total games, including many dominant victories.

Most recently, Penn State swept Michigan 3-0 as their star players, senior Nia Reed and freshman Jonni Parker, both landed double-digit kills overall, with Reed hitting a ground-breaking 0.520 hitting percentage.

As a team, the Nittany Lions delivered their 17th Big Ten championship last fall, advancing all the way to the Final Four before their eventual loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers .

Despite the obstacles facing right in front of them, junior libero Emily Ehman said she hopes the team can rebound against Penn State.

“Hopefully we can come back and get our competitive spirit,” Ehman said. “Right now it seems like everyone’s pretty motivated to get out there and start grinding harder.”

Email: manasapagadala2021@u.northwestern.edu

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