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Volleyball: Wildcats win home opener, but drop match in Milwaukee

The new look ‘Cats are still trying to find their swing in 2023.

Stephen J. Carrera / S.J. Carrera Inc.

It’s never easy leaving the warm sun and inviting climate of Hawaii; however, after going 1-2 at the 2023 Hawaiian Airlines Rainbow Wahine Classic to open the season, Northwestern volleyball came back home, ready to even up their record. In their home opener Friday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena, the Wildcats throttled in-state opponent Illinois State in straight sets. Despite the home win, the ‘Cats are still trying to find their way in 2023, losing to UW-Milwaukee and falling to under .500.

Northwestern’s outside hitters wreaked havoc against Illinois State

Sophomore Kathryn Randorf, graduate student Maddy Chinn, and senior Leilani Dodson led the offensive attack for the Wildcats, recording 13, eight and seven kills. Volleyballs were flying left and right, shooting through the Redbirds' defense all night. The ‘Cats’ .417 hitting percentage, a team-high for the team in the early part of the season, was a major factor in their success against the Redbirds.

Senior setter Alexa Rousseau was in sync with her hitters, tallying 28 assists over the course of the match. She contributed on offense and defense as well, landing a service ace and racking up eight digs. Dodson and first-year Drew Wright contributed at the service line as well, dropping two service aces each.

Although Northwestern never fell behind in the first set, blazing past the opposition 25-8, Illinois State kept the score close at various points in the second and third sets. The ‘Cats found themselves up by a score of 18-17 before sophomore Averie Hernandez came off the bench and landed a service ace. That was the spark the team needed, as they went on a rally, scoring seven of the set’s final eight points to win 25-19.

The third set saw even less separation between the Wildcats and Redbirds, with the score even at 17-17 before Randorf and Dodson’s play at the net closed out the set, 25-22, and secured the match win. In opposition to the domination at the net for Northwestern, Illinois State had its fair share of missed opportunities, committing 17 errors on the night. Nevertheless, Northwestern evened up its record at 2-2 before heading up north to face the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee on Monday.

Errors prove costly against Milwaukee

It was a tale of two matches for the Wildcats over the holiday weekend. Excellent hitting and opponent mistakes were the main factors for Northwestern’s victory over Illinois State. However, its Monday match against Milwaukee was plagued by self-inflicted errors.

Northwestern found itself down early, trailing 16-8 in the first set. While the team made multiple runs to cut the deficit to 22-18 and later 24-23, Milwaukee closed out the set one point later with a kill.

The second set saw a high point for the Wildcats. They used the momentum that got them close to winning the first set to help them jump out to a big lead. Courtesy of five kills from Chinn, Northwestern was able to build a commanding 11-3 lead. That lead was never in jeopardy as the ‘Cats wrapped up the set 25-14, evening the match.

Unfortunately for the Wildcats, 14 total errors over the next two sets largely factored into the team’s loss. Northwestern found itself in a back-and-forth battle in the third set, staying even with the Panthers at 11-11 and even having a two-point lead at 15-13. However, Milwaukee responded back, scoring five unanswered points later in the set to take a 20-16 lead. The Panthers wouldn’t relinquish that lead, taking the set 25-22.

Northwestern found itself tied 16-16 in the fourth set, but following two Milwaukee kills and a pair of Northwestern errors, the Panthers jumped out to a 20-16 lead. The ‘Cats then battled to take a 23-22 lead, but after a sequence that saw the Panthers score on a kill, a service ace, and another kill, Milwaukee put an end to the match, winning the fourth set 25-23.

Although Northwestern dropped this match, three Wildcats scored double-digit kills, with Chinn leading the team with 17 kills. Of the three sets the Wildcats lost, two of them were only by two points and the other by three points. In those losing sets, they committed eight, eight, and six errors.

At this time last year, the team was 6-0. However, this year Northwestern finds itself at 2-3 and committing more errors than their opponents.

What’s next for the Wildcats

Northwestern heads to Boston, Massachusetts for the Northeastern Invitational. There, the team will play against Northern Colorado on Friday afternoon and against host Northeastern on Saturday afternoon. The Wildcats will finish off the weekend playing against Fairfield at their opponent’s home in Fairfield, Connecticut. That game will start at 12 p.m. CT.

The team then returns to Evanston for a five-match homestand, including its first three Big Ten matches of the year to close out September.