Volleyball: New setter, defensive issues extend Northwestern’s losing streak to four


Khadija Ahmed/The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern huddles after a point. Coach Shane Davis said the Wildcats’ close bond and teamwork was a highlight of the weekend.

Paloma Leone-Getten, Reporter

Northwestern is now on to its third setter of the season, and the constant adjustment is taking a toll. 

First, Michigan (15-11, 6-10 Big Ten) defeated the Wildcats (17-11, 6-10 Big Ten) in three sets to one on Friday. Then, Michigan State (11-6, 2-14 Big Ten) decisively swept NU on Saturday.

With junior setter Alexa Rousseau and freshman setter Sienna Noordermeer both out due to injuries, junior libero Grace Reininga stepped up as a designated setter.

We’re really proud and impressed with her, and impressed with the team on how well they (did) as a group,” coach Shane Davis said. 

The Cats, adjusting to their altered lineup, were overpowered by the Wolverines after narrowly winning the first set, 25-23. Reininga tallied 37  assists, while senior outside hitter Temi Thomas-Ailara contributed 21 kills , hitting a productive .318. But it wasn’t enough. 

NU’s seven service errors — and nine receiving errors — slowed it down, and by the second set, its momentum was gone, losing 15-25 to Michigan. The third and fourth sets were closer, 19-25 and 22-25, respectively, but the Cats couldn’t seal the deal and secure a fifth set. 

With the lineup in flux, graduate outside hitter Abryanna Cannon stepped on the court for the first time in several weeks. She saw action in both matches, racking up four kills, five digs and four blocks over the course of the weekend. Graduate outside and opposite hitter Ella Grbac  played for the first time since September, recording a block, dig and kill.

“Ella, coming off injury, made some plays for us,” Davis said. “Abryanna has been fighting to get on the court. She got an opportunity.” 

In the Michigan State contest, NU started the first set strong, leaping out to a 16-8 lead. But the Cats’ efforts soon fell apart, as service errors spurred three and four-point runs by the Spartans. Michigan State managed to tie the game at 22, then took the first set. 

Aided by NU’s receiving and attack errors, along with an inexperienced setter, the Spartans won the subsequent sets with relative ease. 

Sophomore defensive specialist Ellee Stinson recorded 18 digs, her highest in over a month. Reininga, still adjusting to a massive role-change, recorded 18 assists, and Thomas-Ailara led the team with an uncharacteristically low nine kills. 

Despite a tough weekend, Davis cited the team’s close bond through adversity as a highlight. 

“The big takeaway for me was the way we held together as a group, through the biggest adversity we’ve faced so far,” Davis said. “(With) Sienna going down, and the details of that incident, and then coming on a tough road swing through Michigan and Michigan State, the overall demeanor of our group and the way we battled (were highlights).”

With four matches left in Big Ten play, the question of who will finish the season as setter remains. There is no confirmed return timeline for either Rousseau or Noordermeer, Davis said. So, all eyes will be on NU’s setter, whoever it is, when the Cats return to action next weekend.

NU will look to snap its four-game losing streak Friday at Indiana University.

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