It’s official: Northwestern owns the Miami Best Western Sycamore Inn Invitational. The Wildcats took each of their three weekend contests at the tournament, starting the season 3-0 for the second consecutive time.
NU began the weekend by tattooing an overmatched USC Upstate on Friday, taking each of the three sets by a commanding margin (25-12, 25-10, 25-13). The Wildcats out-killed the Spartans by a whopping 39-16 margin, outside hitter Nia Robinson leading the way with 12. Olivia Viscuso, meanwhile, was tops on the team with seven blocks, while libero Michelle Lee managed a whopping five aces.
In Saturday’s doubleheader, Northwestern got a bit of a stiffer challenge. First, Virginia Tech put up a bit of a fight in the morning, though the Wildcats managed to put them down in straight sets as well (25-21, 25-12, 25-21). This time around, junior Lexi Pitsas stepped up defensively, notching 17 digs behind a front line that managed to record just five blocks.
Nia Robinson continued to impress, notching another 14 kills. First year Temi Thomas-Ailara, Alana Walker, and Olivia Viscuso combined for another 22, with the latter achieving a scorching hot .889 hitting percentage. In the meantime, Payton Chang continued to step up as Northwestern’s apparent go-to setter, racking up over 30 assists for the second straight game while adding three kills.
By far the toughest opponents the Wildcats had to deal with on the weekend were their hosts, Miami of Ohio. In 2018, the Redhawks finished the season with an RPI of 65, five slots higher than Northwestern’s ranking of 70. But in their 2019 meeting, NU got the job done. Despite dropping a hotly contested first set 26-24, the Wildcats ran the next three off (25-16, 25-20, 25-23) to take an important four-set victory.
Chang once again stood out, marking a career high in assists with 52 while achieving double digits in digs for the second time that day. The graduate transfer from Stanford, who is the oldest, most experienced member of Northwestern’s roster, seems to have cemented herself, at least for now, as the answer to the Wildcats’ biggest offseason question.
Alana Walker impressed from her role as middle hitter, earning 13 kills and eight blocks. Pitsas, who seems to be upping her role as a defender from last season, had 22 digs. Robinson led the way once more with 19 kills, but it was Viscuso who was once again the picture of efficiency: the senior was awarded kills on 14 of her 19 attempts without a single error.
Unsurprisingly, after racking up a whopping 45 kills across the weekend, Robinson was named the tournament MVP. Viscous and Thomas-Ailara joined her on the All-Tournament team.
Next up, the Wildcats head home for this weekend’s NU Under Armour Challenge in which they will take on Texas Tech, Stephen F. Austin, and Austin Peay State at Welsh-Ryan Arena. All three teams finished last season in the top 75 of the RPI rankings, and should provide some tough challenges for a red-hot Northwestern squad.