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Volleyball: A disappointing weekend furthers a winless start in Big Ten play

After being swept by their Indiana-based conference opponents, Northwestern is starting to get desperate.

Northwestern Volleyball

Wildcat volleyball, who started off their season two weekends ago with home losses to Iowa and then-#3 Nebraska, has fallen to 0-4 in conference play after defeats at the hands of 17th-ranked Purdue and Indiana.

Shane Davis’ bunch joins only Rutgers, who is 1-103 in conference play since joining the Big Ten, at the bottom of the standings. They have now lost three of their first four matches to opponents who do not yet have another win in conference play, with Nebraska the only outlier in that category.

The Wildcats have continued to try to ride Temi Thomas-Ailara offensively. The outstanding first year combined to get 117 attacks in seven sets over the past weekend, leading all players in kills in both matches with 21 against the Boilermakers and 20 against the Hoosiers.

Despite her outburst against a ranked Purdue squad, Northwestern was set down in straight sets in the teams’ Friday night West Lafayette tilt. No other ‘Cat had more than 20 swings or seven kills, with the group committing a crippling 13 service errors compared to just one ace.

First year defensive specialist Charlotte Cronister had 11 digs, but committed four receiving errors. Davis continued a recent trend by pulling setter Payton Chang (who finished with 34 assists) for Kiara McNulty late in the third set, but to no avail. The Wildcats fell 25-18, 25-23, 25-21.

Against Indiana, Northwestern was much more competitive, but ultimately suffered the same fate. The Wildcats and Hoosiers actually won the same amount of overall points when infractions are taken out of the question, but a tough 26-24 first set and the finishing blow of a 27-25 score in the fourth and final set proved too much to overcome.

This time, Thomas-Ailara was less efficient, needing 67 swings instead of 50. Junior outside hitter Nia Robinson largely picked up the slack, with 19 kills of her own on 42 attacks despite 11 errors. Like Purdue, and really all Wildcat opponents during this early Big Ten slate, Indiana dominated NU on the block, garnering 15 of them to the visitors’ 7, and rode that advantage to the win.

Chang, who was again removed in the middle of the match for McNulty (24 assists), had 28 helpers. Lexi Pitsas, the junior libero, did yeoman’s work with 21 digs, and opposite hitter Danyelle Williams returned after a long absence (though Northwestern is still dealing with injuries to Ella Grbac and Hanna Lesiak, and has had as many as nine players sidelined at once already this year), but it wasn’t enough.

The Wildcats will take their 9-7 record into a difficult midweek clash with undefeated-in-conference-play and soon-to-be-top-ten Wisconsin before a rematch with Purdue, both coming back in the friendly confines of Welsh-Ryan Arena.