Volleyball: Northwestern defeats No. 7 Minnesota in first conference win


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Fifth-year outside hitter Hanna Lesiak reaches for a hit. Lesiak scored the final point of the match against Minnesota.

Isabel Funk, Managing Editor

From the start of the fifth set, Northwestern and Minnesota both struggled to pull ahead. 

But the Wildcats had an unshakeable energy as play after play dragged into long rallies, the front row swinging away, while the back row refused to let a ball drop. This unyielding effort proved key to wearing down the No. 7 Golden Gophers — marking NU’s first road win against a top-10 opponent in program history. 

“We didn’t think it was going to be clean with two good teams and Minnesota being great at home,” coach Shane Davis said. “We actually found ourselves down a couple points in two sets and battled back, but the team played really hard, had a ton of fight.”

The Wednesday night match had the teams neck and neck, trading sets — and eventually just points — until the end. The match marked NU’s first conference win of the season after losing its first two matches last week against No. 6 Wisconsin and Illinois. It also ended a 13-game losing streak against Minnesota. 

The Cats came flying out of the gate strong to take the first set 25-22, but they fell behind in the second two sets. Davis said the team’s serve receive helped pull the game back and build momentum in the fourth set, carrying the team to the win in the fifth.

The atmosphere was electric when fifth-year outside hitter Hanna Lesiak closed out the game with her eleventh kill of the night. Her teammates leapt off the bench, meeting her with screams of excitement as they rushed the court and celebrated.

In a post game interview, junior setter Alexa Rousseau, who notched a match-high of four aces and season-high of 52 assists, told the Big Ten Network the team plays with “calm intensity.”

“In crucial situations, in situations where we maybe had a little bit of cushion, I was confident in giving the ball to whoever,” Rousseau said to the Big Ten Network. “I was confident that my serve receive was going to get me a ball that was high, in the middle, perfect pass, and I could just run my offense.”

While four hitters reached double-digits in kills, the back row — led by fifth-year libero Megan Miller — played a strong defensive match. This helped NU stay in tough rallies and gave Rousseau the chance to switch up plays.

In addition to scoring the winning kill, Lesiak also saw success in the back row, picking up 13 digs with a one-handed save in the fifth set. Junior middle blocker Leilani Dodson also posted a career-high of eight blocks. 

Davis said the Cats’ transition out of tough moments and timeouts saw significant improvement from last week. Senior middle blocker Desiree Becker pulled out kills at some of these crucial moments, helping the team close out the match, Davis said.

“Our bench was so good tonight, the atmosphere … we call it ‘benchosphere,’ was fantastic tonight. Really it was the energy they were creating on their own,” Davis said. “That was really cool to witness and it kind of shows a confidence in one another.”

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Twitter: @isabeldfunk

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