The start to conference play has not been kind to Wildcat volleyball. Against No. 7 Wisconsin (10-4, 6-0 B1G), Northwestern (9-9, 0-6 B1G) had a strong start, but ended up losing in sets 3-0. Then in a rematch against No. 20 Purdue (11-4, 3-3 B1G), the ’Cats lost 0-3. Both games took place in Evanston and plunged the team further down the standings.
The teams started the first set neck-and-neck, but the Badgers quickly gained a short lead over the Wildcats—after almost every point that the ‘Cats made to catch up, the Badgers increased their lead. Northwestern led 19-18 and the teams again danced back and forth between ties and one point leads, but the Badgers ultimately won the set 25-23. Hitting at .333 throughout the set, Northwestern competed well against Wisconsin’s .448, making only two more attack errors than Wisconsin throughout the entire set.
The second set had a slower start, the teams continuing to go back and forth, but then Wisconsin led 8-5 and didn’t give up their lead. The Wildcats allowed too many kills from the Badgers and didn’t put up any blocks. The Badgers kept increasing their lead, ending the set 25-15, a vastly different game than the first set. Over this set, the Badgers made double their digs compared to the first set (14 to seven).
The way the Badgers played the second and third sets made the first seem like a warmup. In the third set, Wisconsin immediately took the lead and the Wildcats had at least a three-point deficit the entire set. The teams ended the set rather quickly, with Northwestern losing 19-25.
A vital difference between the Badgers and the Wildcats is Wisconsin has multiple strong offensive players. Wisconsin’s Madison Duello, Dana Rettke and Danielle Hart share the responsibility of attacking and are strong defenders, whereas Northwestern primarily depends on Temi Thomas-Airlara. Because of the lack of players as strong as Thomas-Airlara, she made more kills in the game than the rest of her teammates combined. On the contrary, Wisconsin’s kills were evenly spread out, no player overly out-scoring the rest of the attackers.
In a less eventful game against Purdue, Northwestern’s kill percentage was .123 overall, compared to the Boilermakers' .210. Thomas-Airlara scored 15 points overall, followed by Nia Robinson who scored nine points. Kiara McNulty had a strong game with 24 assists, four times as many as Lexi Pitsas and Danyelle Williams combined.
The Wildcats weren’t shut down as much compared to the game against Wisconsin. The ’Cats lost three sets to Purdue 25-22, 25-19 and 25-18. Although the sets were closer, the team didn’t play as strongly as they did against the Badgers. Just like Northwestern, Purdue had few standout players who led the team even more than Thomas-Airlara and McNulty. Overall, the Wildcats didn’t bring their best to Welsh-Ryan this weekend.
Northwestern next plays at No. 6 Minnesota (11-3, 5-1) on Oct. 18.