Despite the heroics of senior outside hitter Stephanie Holthus and some scrappy play by the Wildcats overall, a slow start proved too much to overcome as Northwestern (14-12, 6-8 Big Ten) fell in four sets to the No. 17 Michigan Wolverines (16-9, 6-8) Saturday afternoon.
There was some sloppy play overall with the Wildcats committing 20 errors and the Wolverines registering 27, but the match was tightly contested, as none of the four sets were won by more than six points.
“I think we basically couldn’t quite find any rhythm,” said junior middle blocker Savannah Paffen, who recorded five kills against three errors.
The Wildcats, who are in the midst of a four-match home stand, fell in four sets to the No. 13 Michigan State Spartans on Friday and relied heavily on Holthus to lead the way Sunday.
The senior star, who became Northwestern's all-time kills leader last week, did her part to help Northwestern pull off the upset. She registered 23 kills, eight digs and two blocks, including one particularly brutal stuff in the middle of the fourth set.
“Steph’s just an awesome player,” said redshirt sophomore middle blocker Maggie Burnham, who tallied seven block assists. “She’s very versatile and is great on the back row or the front row.”
The 'Cats also got a standout performance from freshman setter Caleigh Ryan, who had 47 of the teams 49 assists along with 12 digs. Ryan is currently leading the Big Ten in assists at an impressive 11.22 per set.
Northwestern struggled in the first set but came out revitalized for the second, winning 25-19 and not registering a single error, while Michigan posted nine over the same timeframe.
The Wildcats fell behind early in the third before rallying, thanks in part to two straight kills from freshman right side/outside hitter Kayla Morin, which had Northwestern trailing 16-18. Morin finished with 10 kills on the day as well as a pair of service aces.
The Wolverines pulled away to win the set, though, partially due to the stellar play of senior outside hitter Molly Toon, who finished the game with 20 kills.
In the fourth set, the 'Cats were able to capitalize on the Wolverines’ sloppy play, as back-to-back errors had Northwestern trailing by one before a Holthus kill made it 16-16. Katie Dutchman, who had 12 kills in the game, helped to stave off the first match point with a big return, but ultimately the Wolverines prevailed 25-21.
The front row was dominant at times for the Wildcats, as they notched 14 blocks in the game against just four for the Wolverines, who did a better job of sharing the ball with 64 total assists.
Northwestern has been a very good home team this season, but the two-game losing streak drops the Wildcats' home record to 9-4, compared to a 3-6 mark away from the confines of Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Despite the disappointing loss the Cats will need to regroup quickly, as they face the No. 14 Purdue Boilermakers on Friday, Nov. 15 before finishing the home stand against the Indiana Hoosiers on Sun., Nov. 17.