It was always going to be a challenging weekend of volleyball for Northwestern, as the Wildcats faced two ranked, in-conference opponents in the span of 24 hours. In their first match on Friday night, against ninth-ranked Ohio State, Northwestern was unable to take a single set from the Buckeyes and lost 3-0. But on Saturday, Northwestern looked like world-beaters, as the unranked Wildcats pulled off one of the biggest upsets in program history over third-ranked Penn State, the defending national champions.
In the match against Ohio State, Northwestern never led by more than three points. In set one, the Wildcats led 18-16 before the Buckeyes rattled off seven straight points to win 25-19. After Ohio State took set two 25-20, the Buckeyes raced out to a 13-6 lead in the third set, as a Katie Mitchell led the visitors a sweep over the Wildcats.
But Northwestern didn’t have much time to dwell on their third-straight sweep, as a talented Penn State team entered Evanston less than a day later. In a neck-and-neck first set, the Wildcats notched the final seven points to take the set 25-18.
Though the ‘Cats led the second set 17-13, Penn State went on a big run to level the match at 21. They would go on to win 25-23.
The pivotal third was tight throughout, as the two teams were tied at 19, 21, and 24 before two kills from sophomore Symone Abbott gave the ‘Cats the 26-24 win.
Faced with potentially losing to an unranked opponent in the fourth set, the Nittany Lions finally played like their usual dominating selves. After sophomore Taylor Tashima tied the game at 8, the visitors went on a roll, pushing the lead out to 17-10. Northwestern saved two set points, but a service error handed the set to the Nittany Lions 25-17.
Going into a winner-take-all fifth set (played to 15), Penn State started sloppily. Three attack errors handed Northwestern a 4-0 lead, and the Wildcats would never look back. Penn State closed to within 13-11, until Tashima set up junior Sofia Lavin off a Penn State block for the deciding point.
Northwestern is now 11-2 in matches where they hit at least .200 as a team, putting up a .211 percentage against Penn State, while limiting their powerful opponents to just a .193 rate.
Abbott led both teams with 17 kills, while Kayla Morin was first with 18.5 points (15 kills, 1 ace, 5 assisted blocks). Tashima led both sides with 52 assists, while senior Caroline Niedospial led her team’s balanced defensive effort with 21 digs. Northwestern gets a break before taking on Nebraska, currently ranked fourth, next Friday at home.