All momentum has been lost. After coming out of non-conference play with a sparkling 10-2 record and undefeated performances in the Duke and DePaul Invitationals, Northwestern Volleyball (13-13, 3-11 B1G) has not been able to turn the corner in Big Ten play.
In a conference containing five of the top 10 teams, a rough stretch can snowball until it completely derails the season. That message was reaffirmed this week, as the Wildcats failed to win a set against rival Illinois (18-7, 9-5 B1G) or No. 9 Michigan State (17-6, 10-4 B1G).
Facing Illinois in Champaign on Wednesday, Northwestern only accumulated 54 points to the Fighting Illini’s 75. They played their best in the second set, posting a tremendous .433 hitting percentage with five kills from freshman Nia Robinson; however, Illinois managed to triumph 25-22 despite a .367 hitting percentage. Northwestern struggled passing in this match, committing 20 unforced errors. On the bright side, the future of the team looked strong in this match: freshman Lexi Pitsas had 13 digs and Robinson (also a freshman) had 13 kills.
On Saturday, the ‘Cats faced a daunting challenge in the Spartans at Beardsley Gymnasium at Evanston Township High School, and the result was similar to Wednesday’s. The ‘Cats mustered 50 total points behind Symone Abbott’s 11 kills and one ace. Abbott came alive in the third set on her Senior Spotlight night, recording six kills on seven attempts, but the Spartans took the set 25-18. Northwestern was plagued by a .208 hitting percentage, compared to Michigan State’s .379 clip, and the play of Bailey Autumn, whose 18 kills helped the Spartans pull away in each set with great out of system attacking. Northwestern partnered with the HEADstrong Foundation to hold a Lymphoma Awareness Night in support of redshirt sophomore Kaitlin Tavarez, who is currently undergoing treatment for the cancer.
Next week, Northwestern heads to the Mitten State to take on the Michigan Wolverines (16-10, 6-8 B1G) and will have another go at the Spartans. If the talented freshman and senior classes can click for an extended period of time – a big if, admittedly – the Wildcats could have a chance to secure an elusive conference victory.