Looking to allay its in-conference woes, the Northwestern women’s volleyball team swept the Iowa Hawkeyes 3-0 Sunday at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The Wildcats (14-7, 3-7) churned out one of their best defensive efforts of the year, tallying 13 blocks in set wins of 25-22, 25-18 and 25-15.
“A win in the Big Ten always helps,” said head coach Keylor Chan. “We are finishing the first round [of conference play] with a win and going into the second round with a lot of confidence.”
The win ends a four-game home losing streak. Aside from an Oct. 12 edging of No. 25 Michigan State, the ‘Cats had lost four of their last five. Meanwhile, Iowa (10-13, 2-8) falls to the cellar of the Big Ten with Sunday’s loss.
The first set saw a busy start, with the Wildcats and Hawkeyes swapping leads five times. Northwestern took charge after an 11-11 tie, keeping the lead for the remainder of the set behind the power of sophomore outside hitter Yewande Akanbi, who recorded six kills. Junior outside hitter Stephanie Holthus added another five kills, including the 25-22 set-winning point.
The ‘Cats had some trouble keeping momentum going into the second set, falling behind 7-3 after Iowa recorded three kills and Holthus and freshman defensive specialist Abbie Kraus botched serves. Once again, though, Northwestern mustered a comeback, tying the game at 10-10. The Wildcats held onto the lead with the help of sophomore middle blocker Savannah Paffen and sophomore outside hitter/setter Hannah Crippen, who combined for eight kills.
“When you get a great dig or great play, it just gets everybody excited,” said senior libero Julie Chin, who recorded 10 digs in the win. “That’s how you build momentum.”
Northwestern had no trouble keeping Iowa at bay in the third set, maintaining the lead throughout behind 11 Iowa mishaps and four more Paffen kills. The ‘Cats ended the set on four-point run to win 25-15, with Holthus and Crippen adding another three kills each to seal the victory.
“We played great. We played as a team, and we never doubted ourselves,” said Chin. “This is a great stepping stone going into the second round of Big Ten.”
The Wildcats start the second round of conference play Friday, embarking on a road trip to Minnesota before facing Wisconsin on Sunday. The team returns to Welsh-Ryan Arena on Nov. 2 to play Indiana.
“We’re just going up the ladder right now,” said redshirt senior setter Madalyn Shalter, who registered 33 assists. “We can keep improving, but we’re feeling great as a team.”