Volleyball: Northwestern 0-6 in conference play after loss to No. 20 Purdue


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Temi Thomas-Ailara smiles after a point. Ailara leads the Big Ten with 4.47 kills/game.

Carlos Stinson-Maas, Reporter

After Northwestern lost in straight sets on Oct. 4 at No. 20 Purdue, coach Shane Davis said he hoped the home court environment would give the Wildcats a leg up when the two battled again Saturday.

NU (9-9, 0-6 Big Ten) started strong, playing with high energy and jumping out to a first set lead. But, like several other games this season, the Cats blew their lead and eventually dropped all three sets.

The first set was close throughout, with neither team leading by more than four points. NU jumped ahead 19-17, but a 6-0 Boilermakers (11-4, 3-3) run put them in front for good, and they would eventually win the set 25-22.

The Cats have now blown a late first set lead in five of six conference games this year. Davis said the team performed well but couldn’t convert when it mattered.

“We had opportunities to set our best players in moments and we just couldn’t do it,” Davis said. “It was when it matters, can we make the right decisions.”

NU kept it close again in the second set. The Cats tied the set at 12 thanks to a ferocious kill by freshman outside hitter Temi Thomas-Ailara that brought the crowd to its feet. The score stayed close, yielding a 16-16 tie. Once again, Purdue took over, scoring seven straight on its way to a 25-19 set win.

Thomas-Ailara said the team needs to focus on limiting errors.

“As attackers, we can definitely take care of the ball better,” Thomas-Ailara said. “Because we are getting good sets from our second contact, we just have to take care of the ball.”

Errors proved to be a problem for the Cats, as NU finished with a hitting percentage of .123, over 100 points lower than the team’s season average. The Cats also committed 22 attack errors while the Boilermakers committed just 13.

In the third set, Purdue again used a timely scoring run to seal the win. With the score tied at 11, the Boilermakers scored four straight and held on to win the set 25-18, clinching the match in straight sets.

There were some positives for the Cats. Junior opposite Danyelle Williams, who is recovering from injury, played in all three sets for the first time in conference play this season. She tied for the team lead in total blocks and added five kills.

Thomas-Ailara recorded 15 kills and two service aces, marking her 15th consecutive game with 10 or more kills. She currently ranks first in the Big Ten in kills and third in service aces.

But NU has now lost 37 straight matches against ranked opponents dating back to 2016. However, Davis said he’s confident the Cats can win games down the stretch despite their winless conference start.

“This is a great team and we need to keep getting better,” Davis said. “They’re going about it the right way and getting ready to come back to work on Monday and get better each match, which is a good sign.”

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