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Volleyball update: Slogging through the Big Ten

In the nation’s best volleyball conference, the ‘Cats have struggled to sustain their early-season momentum.

COLLEGE VOLLEYBALL: SEP 01 Northwestern v South Carolina Photo by Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After a blazing hot start by the Northwestern volleyball team, Shane Davis’s squad has had to battle their way through a very difficult Big Ten schedule. The ‘Cats are just 4-6 in conference play while starting 11-1 in non-conference games. In its losses, NU has only won two sets, being swept in four of their six losses. In better news for the Wildcats, they are on a two-game winning streak after dropping three in a row between victories. Here’s what you may have missed in the last few games for Northwestern.

Coming off a four-set loss at No. 6 Ohio State, the Wildcats hosted Maryland on Oct. 14. Northwestern fell behind early in the first set, trailing 10-6, but was able to tie the game at 14 and go on a mini-run to take a 17-14 lead. The ‘Cats were able to work their advantage to 22-19, but would squander the opportunity to put the Terrapins away. Maryland rattled off six points in a row to take the first set 25-22.

The Terps carried their momentum into the second set, jumping out to a 14-7 lead. Davis’s team would battle all the way back to make it 20-all, but were unable to complete the comeback as UMD took the second set 25-22. The third set started competitively, with the game tied at nine before Maryland pulled away with a 5-0 run. The Wildcats were unable to put a run of their own together, and the Terrapins won the set 25-16 and swept the ‘Cats 3-0. Fifth-Year outside hitter Hanna Lesiak led the team with 10 kills, while first-year setter Sienna Noordermeer led the team in assists with 30.

As if it could get any better for Northwestern, they traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska to take on the #1 team in the nation: the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Northwestern came out of the gates swinging, jumping ahead of the Huskers 17-14. Nebraska went on a 6-2 run to take the lead, but the ‘Cats were able to tie it up at 23. Nebraska found a way to win the two points necessary and take the first set.

In the second set, the Cornhuskers showed why they are the best team of the country, as they took an 11-5 lead. The Wildcats were able to cut the lead to two, trailing 15-13, but a 10-3 run by Nebraska to close the set put the ‘Cats one set away from being swept in back-to-back games. In NU’s final push, the team pushed the Cornhuskers to a 12-12 tie in the third set. A 3-0 run and a 4-0 run by the Huskers crushed any momentum and opportunity that Northwestern had, as Nebraska swept the ‘Cats and handed them their ninth straight set loss. It was a strong showing for the newbies, as first-year outside hitter Kathryn Randorf led the team with 11 kills, and Noordermeer led the team in assists with 31.

Looking to get back on track, the Wildcats traveled to the home of the boss, Bruce Springsteen, to kick off an east-coast road trip against Rutgers. Northwestern had defeated the Scarlet Knights 3-0 in Evanston earlier this month. The ‘Cats ran away with the first set 25-19 after getting out to an 18-11 lead.

In the second set, Rutgers went on an early 5-0 run to take a 7-3 lead. NU had their own 4-0 run to cut the Scarlet Knights’ lead to 14-13. Both teams would continue to trade punches through the set, with Rutgers coming out on top 25-23 to tie the game at one set apiece. The third set started with more back and forth as neither team was able to pull away, with the slight edge going to the ‘Cats with a 12-10 lead. Northwestern would get red hot, going on a 13-2 run to shut the Scarlet Knights down and take the set 25-12. The Wildcats carried their momentum into the fourth set, getting out to a 15-9 lead. A late 3-0 Northwestern run made the Scarlet Knights live on a prayer to mount a comeback. The prayer was not answered, as NU took the set 25-16 and the game 3-1.

The Wildcats continued down the east coast, heading to College Park to take on the Terps. Looking to avenge their home loss, Northwestern stumbled out of the gates, falling behind 17-11. However, the ‘Cats found their footing, going on a 9-2 run to take a 20-19 lead. The teams would fight it out, and NU prevailed 25-23 to take the first set. Northwestern stayed hot in the second set, getting out to a 14-5 lead. Maryland went on multiple short runs to pull themselves within 2, as they trailed 20-18. NU halted UMD’s push, winning the second set 25-20. The teams were locked in a dogfight, with the ‘Cats leading by one, 14-13, when Northwestern went on a 5-0 run to push their lead to 19-13. Maryland was unable to comeback, as the ‘Cats took the third set 25-20 and swept the Terrapins.

Northwestern has been streaky so far in Big Ten play, but maybe this winning streak can be the one that continues through the rest of the season. Davis’ squad is good, and if they get hot, they can make some noise in the Big Ten. The ‘Cats will try to keep that momentum going at Welsh-Ryan Arena tonight when they take on Purdue at 8 p.m. CT.