Volleyball: Northwestern looks to break out with veterans and best-ever recruiting class


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Outside hitter Temi Thomas-Ailara. The All-Big Ten senior leads a hungry yet experienced offense for the Wildcats.

Russell Leung, Copy Chief

This fall represents Northwestern’s greatest opportunity for a breakout season in recent years.

At first glance, coach Shane Davis’ team is once again facing choppy waters. The Wildcats are in search of their first winning record since 2014. They open conference play against national champion Wisconsin and face national runner-up Nebraska twice. 

But NU is too talented to not make noise in the Big Ten this season after going 12-19 (7-13 Big Ten) in 2021. Senior outside hitter Temi Thomas-Ailara, a two-time All-Big Ten first-team honoree, leads the offense with her potent attacking and serving power. She ranked fourth in the conference in kills and scored the most aces by a Big Ten player in a single game last season, notching eight. 

Junior setter Alexa Rousseau returns as the Cats’ playmaker and a kills, digs and assists triple threat. Senior outside hitter Hanna Lesiak, graduate student outside hitter Ella Grbac and junior middle blocker Leilani Dodson are staples in the offense, while graduate student libero Megan Miller and sophomore defensive specialist Ellee Stinson hold it down in the back row.

All eyes will also be on the freshman class, which PrepVolleyball.com ranked seventh-best in the country — the best group of recruits in NU history. Top-40 outside hitters Kathryn Randorf and Averie Hernandez add firepower to the offense, and setter Sienna Noordermeer and middle blocker Kennedy Hill should also make an immediate impact. 

NU will miss graduating setter Kiara McNulty, but just about everyone else on the roster returns. This team is deep and experienced — this is the year to make the leap to Big Ten contention.

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