Volleyball: Northwestern comes up short against rivals No. 17 Purdue, Indiana


Daily file photo by Josh Hoffman

Temi Thomas-Ailara stares at her opponent. The freshman outside hitter led the team with 21 kills against Purdue.

John Riker, Reporter

As Northwestern and Purdue engaged in a back-and-forth rally on Friday night, it seemed that both teams were simply incapable of losing.

The Wildcats, having already lost the first set and down 15-19 in the second, were keeping their hopes alive with incredible digs and touches, while host Purdue responded to every NU move, mixing in quick attacks of their own. But the Boilermakers couldn’t respond to a definitive spike by standout freshman Temi Thomas-Ailara, whose kill turned the momentum in the Cats favor.

The incredible moment could have been the pivotal moment of the match, an outcome that seemed likely when NU tied the score at 22-apiece. Instead, Purdue took three of the next four points to close out the set and take a commanding 2-0 advantage.

The Wildcats’ competitiveness in the set, coupled with the inability to close match points, was emblematic of the team’s disappointing road losses to No. 17 Purdue (9-4, 1-3 Big Ten) and Indiana (12-5, 1-3) this weekend. NU (9-7, 0-4 Big Ten) took only one set victory during those two losses, but were in contention in each set.

“We had some opportunities but the one thing we struggled at this weekend was executing in high-pressure situations,” coach Shane Davis said. “We had some set points against Indiana, we had set points against Purdue, but we failed to execute when it really, really mattered.”

In Purdue’s sold-out Holloway Gymnasium, the Cats closed early deficits in the first two sets, but were undone by errors and strong performances from Purdue’s role players. The 2-0 match lead proved insurmountable, though NU tied the set at 20-apiece before falling 25-21. Thomas-Ailara led the way with 21 kills in the defeat.

The Cats fell into a similar deficit after dropping their first two sets against Indiana the following night. Davis shook things up by switching the personnel, a move that paid immediate dividends. NU pounced on the Hoosiers with two 5-point runs that kept them ahead throughout the third set and finished strong to take the set, 25-21.

The Big Ten rivals alternated leads during a closely contested fourth set, and a Thomas-Ailara kill appeared to put the Cats in position for set point. Instead, replay review gave Indiana the point and a 26-25 lead. The Hoosiers took the next point and the match, sending NU home with a disappointing 0-4 record in conference play.

“I was proud of our fight,” Davis said. “I thought our team just fought really, really well, but again, we had set points, opportunities to set our best players in moments and we just couldn’t do it. It was when it matters, can we make the right decisions.”

It won’t get much easier for NU, with upcoming home bouts this week against two ranked opponents, No. 13 Wisconsin and familiar foe Purdue. With key starters coming back from injury and the team’s competitive fire coming to the forefront in recent games, the Cats trust in their system and that they can still turn things around.

“We had a good talk in the locker room afterwards and the captains took the opportunity to talk about how this is a great team and we need to keep getting better,” Davis said. “They believe in themselves, believe in what they’re doing, fighting for one another and getting each other better along the way.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @thejohnriker