Northwestern volleyball was hoping to start off its four-game home stand on a positive note Friday night. The Wildcats boasted a 9-2 home record heading into Friday’s match – as opposed to their current 3-6 away record – giving them a true home-court advantage.
Homecoming, however, wasn’t so sweet for Northwestern (14-11, 6-7 Big Ten), who dropped its second straight match against a ranked conference opponent, losing to No. 13 Michigan State (19-6, 8-5) in four sets. Despite taking the first set, hitting and passing woes ultimately doomed the team.
“If you don’t do some little things well, you’re going to come up on the losing stick,” head coach Keylor Chan said. “Tonight we didn’t do some of the little things really well.”
The Wildcats played the Spartans tight in the first set, with the two teams evenly matched. Senior outside hitter Stephanie Holthus started the game with six kills, leading an efficient Northwestern offense that allowed the ‘Cats to maintain a lead for most of the set.
While Michigan State attempted to stage a comeback, tying up the game after two set points, Northwestern put together their own rally. Redshirt junior right-side hitter Katie Dutchman recorded a crucial kill to force another set point. A Spartan error secured the set win for the Wildcats.
Northwestern seemed to be sustaining its momentum going into the second set. But ultimately, the team couldn’t stop Michigan State’s towering front line, which recorded 11 blocks in the game – with four of them coming in the second set. Sophomore libero Caroline Niedospial said she tried to prepare for the Spartans' low attacks. After exchanging the lead a few times in the set, the Spartans went on to take the second set 25-21.
“You gotta attack the block,” Chan said of his team. “You can’t fear it.”
In the third set, Michigan State took control, jumping to a 10-4 lead and capitalizing on the Wildcat’s sloppy passing. The Spartans kept fresh by alternating setters Halle Peterson and Kristen Kelsay while holding a tiring Northwestern offense to only eight kills and dominating in a 25-13 set win.
“They kind of started getting some good blocks on us,” Dutchman said. “They kind of got carried away and we weren’t adjusting very well and we weren’t communicating as much.”
Northwestern tried to bounce back in the fourth set but could not force any Michigan State errors. The Wildcats, who fell behind 14-6, committed 10 errors in the final set and continued to struggle against the Spartans’ blocking.
The 'Cats attempted to mount a comeback, but a net violation by freshman setter Caleigh Ryan deflated the team’s last efforts, and Michigan State took the final set 25-14.
Despite the setback, the Wildcats aren’t going to let this loss affect them. They play two more ranked teams, No. 17 Michigan and No. 14 Purdue, during their homestand.
“We’re going to forget about Michigan State,” Chan said. “It’s probably the best remedy right now, to realize that this doesn’t define us and move on.”