Volleyball: Northwestern suffers consecutive losses to No. 11 Purdue

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Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Wildcats regroup between points. Northwestern is now 2-2 on the season.

Yunsik Jeong, Reporter


Volleyball


Northwestern dropped both matches this weekend in West Lafayette, losing six of seven sets against No. 11 Purdue.

The Wildcats (2-2) took the floor for the first time in 27 days on Friday after their last three series were postponed due to COVID-19 concerns within the program. NU fell in straight sets against the Boilermakers (6-4) in the first match, but managed to steal a set during Saturday’s loss.

The Boilermaker defense dominated the Cats on Friday, allowing only 48 points in three sets on an inefficient -0.05 hitting percentage. With a combined 25 kills and 30 errors compared to Purdue’s 33 and 10, mistakes on Northwestern’s end proved costly.

Over the 14-day program pause, players were on their own with strength and agility workouts during quarantine. In an unprecedented situation with the pandemic and conference-only schedule, the team remained focused on specific skills.

“The COVID ‘pause’ was a really tough situation for our team, but I’m very proud of the way they have handled it,” said head coach Shane Davis. “Once we returned to the gym, we had a week to prepare for Purdue, so we had to work fast, efficiently, and safely within our return to play training.”

In the opening set, the Wildcats found themselves tied at 17 after scoring three straight, with a pair of kills from senior outside hitter Nia Robinson. Purdue responded with five straight points of their own, with two coming from attacking errors on NU. The Boilermakers went on to win the first set 25-20, the closest set of the night.

Northwestern dropped their following two sets by 10 and 12, suffering their first loss of the season.

Sophomore outside hitter Temi Thomas-Ailara led the way in scoring for the Wildcats, posting 13.5 points with 10 kills on 31 total attempts while the rest of the team combined for 15 kills on 70 total attempts.

The second match saw a more disciplined Wildcat team that managed to avoid losing in straight sets on consecutive nights. The Cats raised their level of play on the defensive end, combining for 60 digs and seven blocks.

NU started the game with a pair of attacking errors and went down 0-3 after a kill from the Boilers. Thomas-Ailara stopped the initial bleeding with a kill but Purdue responded with four straight points and maintained the lead, taking the opening set 25-18.

In the following set, Northwestern took advantage of Purdue’s transition defense with six early kills from redshirt sophomore outside hitter Abryanna Cannon and Thomas-Ailara, putting the Cats up 11-8. The Boilermakers yet again went on a run of their own, racking up five kills to go back up 15-13.

Unlike the past four sets played in Holloway Gymnasium, NU strung together an impressive six-point run with kills from Robinson, Thomas-Ailara, and sophomore middle blocker Desiree Becker to regain the lead. Despite Purdue’s best efforts to come back from this deficit, a kill by Cannon finally gave the Cats a set win, 25-22.

The remaining two sets showed why the Boilermakers are ranked 11th in the country. Purdue improved play on both ends of the floor, winning the third set by ten and leading the entirety of the final set.

“Purdue is a great volleyball team, and they are really tough at home. I liked how our team competed, and I like how our team responded from our night one struggles,” Davis said after the game.

Thomas-Ailara had another impressive performance, leading both teams in points at 22, along with 18 kills, five blocks and an ace. Junior libero Megan Miller led the team in digs with 14.

The Cats will be back in Evanston to play the University of Iowa (2-8) in another two-game series beginning on Friday. Northwestern will look to add a pair of wins against the Hawkeyes, who are coming off a loss to Rutgers.

“We still have a lot of work to do, as well as some catching up to do after our program pause,” Davis said. “We will focus on a couple things this week with our sideout and defensive systems, and hope to keep raising our level of play.”

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