Off to a Rocky Start

Northwestern Women’s Volleyball (11-13, 5-9 B1G) sits near the bottom of the B1G rankings (10th of 14 teams). This isn’t a big surprise given that the ’Cats lost two star hitters to the transfer portal after the conclusion of last season. Graduate outside hitters Temi Thomas-Ailara and Hanna Lesiak led the team in kills last season with 502 and 297 respectively.

The ’Cats were steamrolled in three straight sets early on in the season by then #1 Wisconsin (22-1, 13-1 B1G), Thomas-Ailara’s new team. The Badgers dominated offensively with 41 kills, 18 more than the ’Cats.

Northwestern bounced back with a 3-2 comeback win at then #17 Purdue (15-8, 9-5 B1G). After losing the first set by eight and the second set by 10 points, the ’Cats fought back to pull off a nail-bitingly-close victory of 27-25 in the third set. The ’Cats settled in after that, winning the fourth set by 14 points and closing out the fifth to take home the victory.

After that, the ’Cats were pummeled by then #2, now #1 Nebraska (23-0, 14-0 B1G) at home. The ’Cats have a chance to face the unbeaten Cornhuskers again this upcoming Wednesday, though the odds are not in  Northwestern’s favor.

But there’s still hope.

Student attendance has skyrocketed this season, setting a new record twice.

This uptick in attendance is partially due to NU Athletics’ new initiative incentivising students to attend as many sporting events as possible. Despite the 5-6 record at home, increased student attendance has contributed to an electrifying atmosphere at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Leaders on the Court

Graduate outside hitter transfer Julia Sangiacomo has stepped up to fill the offensive void left by the departures of Thomas-Ailara and Lesiak. Coming off of her senior year at Santa Clara University, she’s proved herself a valuable addition to the ’Cats roster. Sangiacomo, an American Volleyball Coaches Association All-Pacific North Region honoree, leads the team with 286 kills already this season, putting her sixth overall in the B1G for kills per set.

First-year defensive specialist/libero Gigi Navarrete is transitioning well from her time as a nationally-ranked high school player to her role on Northwestern’s team. She is a passing leader for the ’Cats, finding herself high in the team stat rankings. She ranks fourth on the team in digs with 158 and third on the team in assists with 37.

Third-year defensive specialist/libero Ellee Stinson has been commanding the backcourt this season claiming the third most digs in the B1G with 399 so far. She won B1G Defensive Player of the Week on Sept. 11 following her stellar defensive performance leading the ’Cats to win three games in nine straight sets.

Fourth-year setter Alexa Rousseau has been a key ingredient in the offense leading the team in assists since she first stepped on the court for the ’Cats in 2020. Her best performance this season was at Indiana (17-10, 7-7 B1G) where she led the ’Cats to victory achieving three individual season highs with 53 assists, 11 digs, and eight kills.

Transition to B1G Play

The ’Cats are nearing the end of the season with six games left, all against B1G opponents. The greatest challenge will be Northwestern’s matchup against Nebraska coming up on Nov. 8. However, it’s hard to tell what the end of the season will look like. The ’Cats will face Iowa (8-18, 0-14 B1G) on Nov. 12 and Rutgers (10-14, 2-12 B1G) on Nov. 17 for the first time this season. Northwestern can still climb in the B1G rankings and earn a less challenging first-round matchup in the B1G Tournament. However, if Northwestern stays near the bottom of the B1G rankings, they risk facing Nebraska or Wisconsin in the first-round. If the ’Cats are paired up with either of these B1G powerhouses, they will have a real battle on their paws.

Thumbnail photo by Brendan Preisman/North by Northwestern