Volleyball: Northwestern looks for second win versus Michigan State

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Volleyball: Northwestern looks for second win versus Michigan State

The Wildcats talk in between points. Northwestern has only won one conference game this season

The Wildcats talk in between points. Northwestern has only won one conference game this season

Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

The Wildcats talk in between points. Northwestern has only won one conference game this season

Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

The Wildcats talk in between points. Northwestern has only won one conference game this season

Carlos Stinson-Maas, Reporter

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Northwestern has only one win against a conference opponent this season: a sweep of Michigan State on Nov. 1.

On Saturday, the Wildcats will face off against the Spartans once again, this time in East Lansing, Mich. Michigan State (13-10, 4-9 Big Ten) draws well over 3,000 fans per game, more than quadrupling NU’s (10-15, 1-12) average attendance.

That difference shouldn’t scare the Cats, especially after playing in front of 8,026 fans Wednesday. Coach Shane Davis said he believes the Cats are still capable of playing well in away games.

“We’re not seeing too much of a difference in terms of the quality of play or even the scores,” Davis said. “There’s less distractions on the road, which is nice. They feel comfortable on the road, which is a positive for our group.”

The Spartans have struggled over the past few weeks, dropping their last six matches. The losing streak has derailed Michigan State’s season — the team had a winning conference record before the skid, but now has clinched a losing record in the Big Ten.

Unfortunately, NU has fared even worse, losing 11 of its last 12 and sitting at last place in the conference. On Wednesday, the Cats fell in straight sets at No. 7 Nebraska, scoring a season-low seven points in the second set.

In spite of NU’s struggles, they were able to pull off a huge upset over the Spartans last Friday. The Cats played hard throughout, earning comeback wins in all three sets en route to a sweep. NU was led by junior outside hitter Nia Robinson and sophomore outside hitter Ella Grbac, both of whom recorded double-digit kills.

In that match, the Cats played without their leading scorer, freshman outside hitter Temi Thomas-Ailara, who was out with an injury. She returned to the starting lineup Wednesday and is expected to be available against Michigan State this time around. Davis said he’s been impressed with Thomas-Ailara’s growth this season.

“She’s doing a good job as far as getting better,” Davis said. “Her focus is good — Temi’s focused on being a great team player, too.”

On the other side of the net, Michigan State has been led this season by junior outside hitter Meredith Norris, who leads the team in points, kills, and service aces. NU was able to limit Norris’s production last week, holding her to just six kills, at that point her lowest total since Sept. 15.

Despite their mediocre record, the Spartans have only three losses against unranked teams — the Cats have eight. Michigan State and NU have been ineffective against ranked foes, with both teams going unwinning against top-25 teams.

The road ahead looks bleak for both squads, as they’ll each face three ranked opponents in their final six games. A win on Saturday would be huge for the Cats, as it would be only their second conference victory this year — for the Spartans, a win would snap their six-game losing streak and give them some much-needed momentum in the final weeks of the season.

Davis said the team will need to avoid hesitation and play with more consistency.

“We gotta find ways to minimize our errors,” Davis said. “There’s some important moments that we’re just not necessarily taking advantage of.”

Email: carlosstinson-maas2023@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @thepresidito

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