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Women’s Volleyball: The ‘Cats continue to struggle entering Big Ten play

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Northwestern is now 2-3 in its last five games.

When we last checked in on Northwestern volleyball, the Wildcats were preparing to return to Welsh-Ryan Arena for their home opener as a part of the Chicago Cup. At that point, the ‘Cats sat at 3-5 after a somewhat disappointing trip out west. Unfortunately, their record has continued to worsen, as they now sit at 5-8 with an 0-2 record in conference play.

The Wildcats’ opening game in the Chicago Cup came against the University of Illinois-Chicago. The Flames came into this match on a bit of a hot streak, having won three of their last four to bring their record to 4-5. However, the ‘Cats quickly snuffed them out by taking the first two sets by scores of 25-20 each. Northwestern would drop the third set 25-21 before taking the fourth 25-16, winning the match in the process. Ultimately, Temi Thomas-Ailara showed out for the ‘Cats, leading the way with 15 kills and four blocks.

Continuing their play in the Chicago Cup, the Wildcats moved on to face DePaul. The match was a close one throughout, with each team trading sets back and forth until they were tied at two apiece. The ‘Cats dominated the fourth set by a score of 25-15, sending them into the final set with plenty of momentum. Unfortunately, they would go on to lose the final set by just two points, handing the match to the Blue Demons.

Later that night, Northwestern played its final match in the Chicago Cup against Loyola-Chicago. It was the NU’s third match in just two days, and the team came out on fire against the 7-4 Ramblers. The Wildcats ended up sweeping LUC by scores of 25-20, 25-21 and 25-22, ending the Chicago Cup on a very high note. Thomas-Ailara once again led the way for the ‘Cats with 12 kills and three blocks. Megan Miller added eight digs while Alexa Rousseau piled on 32 assists.

Following the Chicago Cup, the Wildcats officially began their run in conference play. Before traveling down to Champaign to face their in-state rivals, the ‘Cats formally opened conference play against the No. 12 Nebraska Cornhuskers. The Cornhuskers entered this match having lost three in a row. Yet, despite an impressive showing from the Northwestern student section, the ‘Cats were unable to pull off the upset.

The problems were evident early on for Northwestern in this one, as the ‘Cats quickly fell behind 2-0 after the Huskers took each of the first two sets by a score of 25-21. While NU was able to get one set back and avoid a clean sweep, Nebraska took the fourth set handily by a score of 25-16, shutting the door on any comeback the Wildcats were cooking up. The Cornhuskers dominated all facets of this match, leading in all significant stats by its end.

After their loss to Nebraska, the ‘Cats had a few nights off before heading down south to Champaign on Sept. 25. While unranked, Illinois entered this matchup sitting at an impressive 9-3, with its defeats coming against two ranked opponents in Washington and Creighton and unranked Colorado. Northwestern, meanwhile, entered at 5-7, but still managed to get off to a quick start against the Illini, taking a tight first set 25-23.

That momentum wouldn’t last long, however. Illinois soon bounced back, taking both the second and third sets by a score of 25-17. The ‘Cats took the fourth set 25-21, sending the match to a fifth set and setting up the potential for a big upset win, but they were unable to finish off the Illini and ultimately fell 3-2. As a result, Northwestern officially dropped to 5-8.

Overall, it’s been a somewhat disappointing continuation to the season for the Wildcats, who had the opportunity to pull off multiple upsets but were unable to close games out come crunch time. Their season continues this weekend at Welsh-Ryan Arena, where they’ll take on Rutgers and seventh-ranked Minnesota on back-to-back nights on Oct. 1 and Oct. 2.