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Volleyball: Wildcats improve to 8-1, upset No. 24 Pepperdine

Shane Davis’s squad is off to a strong start ahead of conference play.

@NUVball on Twitter.

After going undefeated in the first seven matches of the season, Northwestern Volleyball traveled to Seattle for the Husky Invitational, where they would face Cal Poly and their first ranked opponents in No. 13 Washington and No. 24 Pepperdine.

Two weekends ago, the Wildcats traveled to Tennessee Tech to take part in the Golden Eagle Invitational where they emerged undefeated. Northwestern took down Tennessee Tech, Evansville and Western Carolina by a total margin of nine sets to two, sending the team off on a high before its visit to the pacific northwest.

In their first matchup at UW in Seattle, Wash. on Sept. 8, Northwestern continued its hot streak by taking down Cal Poly 3-1. During the matchup, fifth-year libero Megan Miller would record her 1,000th career dig to become only the fifth Big Ten athlete to reach the mark. The team’s winning streak and Miller’s celebrations would come to an end later in the day though, when the Wildcats fell to the ranked Huskies, taking one set to the host’s three.

The next day, however, the ‘Cats would beat No. 24 Pepperdine in three sets to mark their first win against a ranked team since 2019 when NU beat a then-top-ten Baylor.

While most would look at this program’s middle-of-the-pack standing over the past few years in an extremely tough conference — one that has sent a member of the conference to the NCAA Championship game in each of the last five years — as nothing to shrug at, the program is off to its best start since 2017, when the team started 10-1 before dropping its second contest.

Against Pepperdine, Northwestern’s hitting percentage was .396, and the team recorded a staggering 55 kills. Some standouts, as predicted, are Temi Thomas-Ailara, who has recorded 107 kills so far this season, and Miller, as noted before. Fifth-year Hannah Lesiak is seeing much more of the court thus far, recording a double-double (12 kills and 12 digs) against Pepperdine for a total of 94 digs on the season through the nine matches.

Freshman standout Kathryn Randorf is making her impact known early as well, already playing 22 sets and tallying 68 kills. As well, senior Desiree Becker is hitting .447, leading the ‘Cats and marking her at second overall in the Big Ten.

While the bulk and strength of their schedule are well ahead of them, with conference play beginning on Sept. 23, it is safe to say Northwestern has been able to build up their confidence with the first real non-conference season since before COVID-19. At the rate this team is playing, led by Thomas-Ailara, Miller, setter Alexa Rousseau and Becker, the ‘Cats are playing like a squad that is capable of finishing with its first winning record since 2014.

NU will hope to continue its hot start at the Chicago Cup this weekend, where it will face Depaul (4:00 P.M. CST), University of Illinois at Chicago (12:00 P.M. CST) and Loyola (5:00 P.M. CST) before traveling to face the reigning national champion Wisconsin Badgers the following weekend.