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The complete Northwestern volleyball 2023 season preview

The Wildcats look to finally break through and reach the upper echelon of college volleyball.

Northwestern Athletics

With the season kicking off in under one week, Northwestern volleyball will look to change the narrative surrounding the program and prove that it can compete with the powerhouses of Big Ten volleyball. The ‘Cats have reloaded their roster for the upcoming season and will attempt to end a 35-year drought of a winning Big Ten record.

The Wildcats have their work cut out, losing top talent from their 2022 campaign. Furthermore, NU’s offseason was full of controversy, highlighted by a lawsuit about alleged hazing by head coach Shane Davis, which Inside NU was able to confirm. With the ‘Cats about to return to the floor, here is everything you need to know heading into the 2023 season.

The Basics

2022 Record: 18-14 (7-13 B1G)

Head Coach: Shane Davis (8th season)

Returning Members

Setters: Sienna Noordermeer (So.), Alexa Rousseau (Sr,)

Libero: Ellee Stinson (Jr.),

Middle Blocker: Leilani Dodson (Sr.), Kennedy Hill (So.)

Outside Hitter: Natalie Chizzo (Sr.), Averie Hernandez (So.), Ariel Amaya (Jr.), Kathryn Randorf (So.)

Key Losses: Temi Thomas-Ailara (Transfer-Wisconsin), Desiree Becker (Transfer-UCLA), Hanna Lesiak (Transfer-Long Beach State), Abryanna Cannon (Transfer-South Alabama), Tatyana Hardwick (Graduated), Megan Miller (Graduated), Olivia Haskins (Graduated), Ella Grbac (Graduated), Charlotte Cronister (Transfer-UNC Wilmington), Grace Reninga (Transfer-Johns Hopkins)

New Additions: Gigi Navarrete (Fy.), Drew Wright (Fy.), Ellie Husemann (Minnesota), Maddy Chinn (Purdue), Rylen Reid (Florida Gulf Coast), Julia Sangiacomo (Santa Clara), Lauren Carter (Denver)

2022 Capsule

Northwestern fired out of the gates last year, finishing 11-1 in non-conference play to start the season. As the ‘Cats began Big Ten play, they came to quickly realize that it is much harder to win conference matchups. The Wildcats were swept in their first two conference games of the season before traveling to Minneapolis to take on No. 7 Minnesota. After a back-and-forth match, NU captured the fifth set and victory over the Golden Gophers, the highest-ranked road win in program history.

Following the upset, Northwestern lost four out of its five next matches, with its lone win against Rutgers. During that stretch, Rousseau, the team’s prominent setter, went down with an injury that sidelined her for the next month. The Wildcats got back on track after the skid, winning four straight matches, including an upset over No. 12 Purdue. The ‘Cats almost pulled off the biggest upset of program history, being just two points away from knocking off national powerhouse Nebraska, but eventually fell to the Huskers in five sets.

Furthermore, the ‘Cats suffered a loss that impacted their season more than just one game could. In the fifth set, Noordermeer, who had replaced the injured Rousseau and had a stellar freshman season, hit her head on the bleachers diving after a ball, concussing herself and ending her season, leaving NU without a setter.

With the Wildcats still in the mix for an NCAA Tournament berth, they would need to stay hot down the stretch to secure their spot; however, that did not happen. Northwestern lost its next five matchups, effectively ending its postseason hopes. The Wildcats picked up a win against Illinois on Senior Day to close out the 2022 season.

Offensive Overview

Northwestern’s offense will have to find its way after suffering heavy losses this offseason. All-American Thomas-Ailara, who led the Big Ten in kills last season, transferred to Wisconsin this offseason, and a multitude of the ‘Cats’ attackers also departed Evanston. Entering 2023, NU has reloaded its roster and will have to find the right combination to score enough points.

The Wildcats will turn to their highly rated 2022 recruiting class to take a big step from their first season and carry the ‘Cats to victory. Look for Randorf to be NU’s top attacker, and Hernandez and Hill to come into their own in their first season of meaningful minutes.

Furthermore, Northwestern turned to the transfer portal to replenish its offensive losses. The Wildcats added four attackers, including three graduate students. Sangiacomo and Chinn bring veteran experience to the program and will help the ‘Cats attack.

Defensive Overview

Northwestern lost its two defensive superstars, Miller and Becker, this offseason, so the ‘Cats will need to quickly figure out how to defend against Big Ten attackers. Stinson, who had 322 digs last season, should slide into the starting lineup this season. Dodson will take over as the Wildcats’ top blocker in 2023, and Purdue transfer Chinn will provide support on the defensive side.

Northwestern will have to limit its number of errors to compete this season. NU had 174 receiving errors, giving multiple free points to the opponents. If NU can play clean volleyball, the Wildcats can compete with the top teams in the Big Ten.

Three Players to Watch

Setter Alexa Rousseau

Healthy for her senior season, Rousseau will be a key cog on the floor for the ‘Cats’ season. The setter makes her teammates look good, delivering the ball with ease. Despite missing a month last year, No. 5 still led the team in assists with 813. In the Wildcats’ upset over the Gophers, Rousseau tallied 52 assists.

Entering her senior season, Rousseau is six assists away from 2,000, and she should enter the top ten in Wildcats’ history in assists at the conclusion of the 2023 season. Rousseau will be a leader on and off the floor for the ‘Cats, and if she can stay healthy, will be a large reason for any success the Wildcats have.

Outside Hitter Kathryn Randorf

The former Ohio Gatorade Player of the Year made her impact felt instantly in her inaugural season, earning a spot on the All-Big Ten Freshman Team. Randorf collected 256 kills in her first year in purple and white, including 13 in the ‘Cats’ upset over No. 12 Purdue.

Standing 6-foot-1, Randorf’s wingspan allows her to meet the ball at its highest point before slamming it down on her opponents. With TTA moving north to Wisconsin, Randorf will need to take a big step forward and score with authority to help the ‘Cats win games.

Outside Hitter Julia Sangiacomo

Sangiacomo comes to Evanston after spending four years at Santa Clara. She has over 1,500 career kills, including 475 last season. In 2022, she reached double-digit kills 26 times, including eight games of 20+ kills. To be frank, she is an offensive weapon.

At 6-foot-5, Sangiacomo is able to get to any ball, and the ball comes off her palm like a heat-seeking missile. It is safe to assume that the graduate transfer will see plenty of action this season, and she will be a huge portion of the Wildcats’ offensive success in 2023.