Volleyball: Northwestern kicks off Big Ten play with losses to Minnesota and Illinois


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Temi-Thomas Ailara. The senior outside hitter shined despite the program’s losses against Wisconsin and Illinois.

After a hot non-conference start, Northwestern stumbled in its first foray into Big Ten play.

The Wildcats (11-3, 0-2 Big Ten) fell in straight sets against No. 6 Wisconsin and Illinois on Friday and Saturday, respectively. The matches marked NU’s first consecutive losses this season and the first instances they were swept in three games.

The Cats initially kept pace with the Badgers (7-2, 1-0). In the first set, NU tied the contest three times within the first few minutes. But the Badgers soon took control, scoring four straight points and never surrendering the lead after. 

NU managed a four-point lead at one point in the second set and scored the opening three points in the third. Still, the Badgers’ potent defense – ranking third in the country in blocks per set – and balanced offense proved too much for the Cats to handle. 

Saturday was a quick turnaround as NU traveled to Urbana-Champaign. The Fighting Illini (7-5, 2-0) overwhelmed the Cats in the first set, scoring the first four points. The Cats attempted to claw back, led by junior setter Alexa Rousseau’s well-rounded effort contributing numerous assists and blocks. The teams took it to the wire, tying 24-24, but Illinois eventually prevailed, taking the first set.

The second set was initially a back-and-forth affair, featuring eight different ties. The teams tied at 17-17, but a series of six NU offensive errors put the Fighting Illini over the top in the second set. The third set was similarly competitive until late into the matchup, but the script was nearly the same. Late offensive errors by NU again benefited Illinois, allowing it to take the final set 25-20.

Despite these losses, senior outside hitter Temi Thomas-Ailara shined. She led the Cats in kills, recording 27 total over the weekend – including a match-high 16 against the Fighting Illini. Rousseau looked dangerous as well, totaling a match-high 30 assists against Wisconsin as NU sought an upset. 

The Cats will seek to return to their winning ways on Wednesday at Minnesota. 

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