Wildcats’ volleyball has been on an up and down trajectory as of late, hopping back-and-forth between the win and loss columns. Now with an overall record of 7-10 and 2-4 in conference play, the ‘Cats are still looking to break even or perhaps even grind out a winning record. However, it will require significantly more consistency on the floor to do so. The team went 2-2 the last four games, beginning with a strong win over Rutgers. The team had a 3-0 sweep led by star Temi Thomas-Ailara, who had a whopping 16 kills and 7 digs, not to mention an ace. After a slower first set, Thomas-Ailara and the team managed to hold on 25-23 in each of the following two. The student section showed up big-time on the sidelines, propelling the Wildcats to a 3-2 record at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Unfortunately, the home court momentum did not continue into the following night in a matchup against No. 7 Minnesota. The Wildcats started out hot, winning the first two sets. and Thomas-Ailara dominated again with 21 kills, while Tatyana Hardwick led the defensive effort with six blocks. Leading 2-1 heading into the 4th set, the ‘Cats pushed the set into win-by-two post play, but suffered a crushing 31-29 loss in that set, and eventually lost the match as a whole.
Taking their efforts on the road, the team headed to College Park to play the well-established 13-4 Maryland Terrapins. Despite an impressive record, all the Terrapins losses have occurred in conference play, making the record disparity between the two squads a little deceiving. This lack of execution against conference teams showed against Northwestern, who ultimately walked away with the W. In another five-set match, the ‘Cats and Terrapins traded blows like clockwork — neither team taking consecutive sets. In similar fashion to their loss against Minnesota, NU missed out on a chance to finish in the foourth set, losing by nine points and setting the stage for a late Maryland victory. However, the ‘Cats charged back, with Thomas-Ailara putting up another great performance with 16 kills and Alexa Roussea leading the pack with a staggering 44 assists. Northwestern hung on in the end, winning the final set by two points in the successful battle on the road.
The well-earned victory was followed by an immediate tough turnaround, as the team next faced off against No. 13 Penn State. The ‘Cats came up short in both of the first two sets, though they only lost the first by four, before Thomas-Ailara led a late rally to help Northwestern take the third set. The Nittany Lions quelled the upset attempts soon enough by winning the fourth set, proving worthy of their No. 13 overall ranking.
Looking ahead, Northwestern will stay on the road for two more games. The trip includes an anticipated rematch against Minnesota and a game against Iowa. The ‘Cats return home on October 20, hoping to redeem themselves against the Fighting Illini (who beat them in five sets earlier this year) with a home crowd cheering from all sides. Northwestern has shown they have the ability step up in key situations, but it will take more than Thomas-Ailara’s nightly star-power for the team to collectively step out of the loss column and start winning on a consistent basis.