There seems to be a similar pattern developing in Northwestern’s season.
Following a week where the ‘Cats got swept by No. 2 Nebraska but took a five-set thriller against Michigan, the Wildcats experienced some deja vu when they met Ohio State and Indiana. The Buckeyes easily got ahead of the Wildcats on Wednesday, winning each set by 12 or more points. On Sunday, the ‘Cats narrowly beat out the Hoosiers in the last two sets to stay .500 on the season.
Ohio State set the tone of the matchup from the beginning, getting out to an early 3-1 lead. NU, however, equalized the playing field with a kill from Leilani Dodson and service ace from Drew Wright.
The two Big Ten rivals went back and forth once more, but a five-point run from the Buckeyes certified their dominance in the match. The ‘Cats continued to gather kills from Dodson, Maddy Chinn, Rylen Reid, Averie Hernandez and Alexa Rousseau, with four from Hernandez and three from Dodson in total over the first set. Yet, NU never came close to closing in on Ohio State, which won 25-13.
The second set was similar to the first. The Buckeyes jumped out to a 6-1 lead, with Chinn adding a kill for Northwestern. But, the ‘Cats didn’t have a strong enough answer to stop Ohio State. In claiming the set 25-12, OSU achieved multiple scoring streaks, including ones of four and five points.
Northwestern trailed closely for the first four points of the final set, tying the match twice at two and four. Ohio State then put up straight four points, but Kathryn Randorf answered with two of her own. That is the closest the score would be as six straight points from the Buckeyes helped secure their lead and a 25-13 victory.
The Wildcats seemed bluntly outmatched against the Buckeyes, having just a .091 hitting percentage. While Emily Londot, Chelsea Thorpe and Rylee Rader gathered 22, 10 and eight kills, respectively, to lead Ohio State, Hernandez led Northwestern with seven.
The return to Evanston was a much-needed momentum booster for the ‘Cats.
Northwestern started out the first set strong, winning 25-23, after beginning with a two-point lead off a kill from Randorf. Indiana stayed close behind, and NU was holding on to just a 9-8 lead before a kill from Randorf and two attacking errors gave it another three points. The small four-point advantage at 12-8 gave the Wildcats an edge as the set continued. The Hoosiers eventually retied the score at 21 and then 22, but two attacking errors and Randorf’s fourth kill of the set secured a win.
The second set was all over the place, featuring 14 ties and six lead changes. The Hoosier started off with a quick 5-0 lead, but eventually, a 6-0 run that featured three kills put the ‘Cats ahead 9-7. It took three times of equalizing the score for Indiana to finally overtake Northwestern. Yet, after falling behind 21-20, NU went on another four-point run. At 24-21, the set was close to being over, but Indiana tied it up once more. The Hoosiers finally won the set 34-32, after eight more ties.
Indiana was able to carry its success into the third set. The Hoosiers tacked on the first point, and the Wildcats were only able to even the score at 1 and 10. Despite, keeping the game as close as 23-21 towards the end of the set, Northwestern was never able to get ahead, leading Indiana to claim another set, 25-21.
The Hoosiers needed just one more set to win, but the Wildcats prevailed. NU propelled itself to an 8-4 lead, amassing kills from Randorf, Dodson and three from Hernandez, along with a serve from Dodson. Indiana came within one point twice, but Northwestern went on a four-point run to go back up 15-10. The Hoosiers continued to closely trail the Wildcats, even making it 19-18 and 20-19 but were never able to get over the hump, allowing NU to push a fifth set at 25-22.
Northwestern easily carried the momentum from the fourth set into the fifth. Indiana had a 2-1 lead, but a kill from Dodson and two from Hernandez put NU, along with an Indiana error, up 5-2. The Hoosiers pulled in close at 6-4, but the ‘Cats unleashed a 3-0 run on kills from Dodson and Rousseau and an attacking error fueled by a block from Rousseau and Kennedy Hill. The Hoosiers would come within two points three more times but could not make anymore leeway. Thanks to two service errors, NU was up 13-10, before delivering two unanswered kills from Hernandez to win 15-10.
Hernandez, Dodson, Hill and Chinn all tallied double-digit kills in the win. The ‘Cats and Hoosiers were evenly matched, committing 74 and 70 kills and nine and 11 service errors, respectively. Ultimately, Northwestern was a tad more efficient.
Northwestern will travel to Champaign, Ill. to take on Illinois on Wednesday, before hosting Minnesota at home on Sunday.