Volleyball: Struggling Cats take on last-place Rutgers


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Temi Thomas-Ailara prepares for a serve. The freshman outside hitter is fifth in the Big Ten in service aces.

Carlos Stinson-Maas, Reporter


The last time Northwestern was 0-9 in conference play, most of the 2023 class wasn’t born yet. Now, the team will leave Sunday’s game with either its first conference win or yet another strike on a winless record.

The Wildcats travel to New Brunswick, N.J., this weekend to take on Rutgers in a battle of cellar-dwellers.

NU (9-12, 0-9 Big Ten) has struggled against conference opponents, winning a combined four sets in its last nine games. The Scarlet Knights (6-14, 0-9) have been even worse during that span, winning just three sets.

Both teams have had challenging schedules to this point, with Rutgers having faced three ranked opponents and the Cats facing six.

On Wednesday, NU fell in five sets to Maryland at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The Cats were hot and cold, performing well in sets one and four but getting outplayed in the other three. Coach Shane Davis said he was disappointed with the team’s performance after the game.

“We’ve been pretty poor as soon as our first contact is poor,” Davis said. “We’re either really good or really bad, and we’ve struggled to improve the play as it goes on.”

After winning a set against No. 7 Minnesota on Oct. 5, the Scarlet Knights lost five straight matches to unranked squads. They sit below NU in the conference due to their 6-5 record in non-conference play and 0-9 mark in the Big Ten.

Rutgers ranks last in the Big Ten in hitting percentage, kills and assists, and it has no players in the top seven in any major statistical category.

Freshman outside hitter Temi Thomas-Ailara, who ranks first in the conference in kills per set and fifth in service aces, has been a bright spot in an otherwise underwhelming season. Davis praised Thomas-Ailara’s focus and work ethic.

“Her extra thing that she wants to do is continue to come in for additional film sessions,” Davis said. “She’s doing a good job being a learner, and I think the team embraces it.”

With a win against Rutgers, the Cats can grab some much-needed momentum and avoid a 10-game losing streak. Davis said NU needs to work on its mental game ahead of this weekend’s matchup.

“This team’s gotta work on something more than just volleyball,” Davis said. “Just gotta build that confidence a little bit. We’re winning some tight battles in practice, just trying to work on confidence moves on our side of the net and some pressure situations.”

Davis stressed the importance of diligence in preparation for the game against Rutgers.

“We talked about working hard and putting ourselves in positions to compete,” Davis said. “Maybe we’re not working as hard as we need to.”

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